Thursday, February 14, 2008

NBC "Lipstick Jungle" episode touches on a potential legal issue in fiction publishing


Lipstick Jungle is a new glitzy show on NBC about three powerful women in the Big Apple: Victory (Lindsay Price), Nico (Kim Raser), and Wendy (Brooke Shields). It sounds like a serialization of “The Devil Wears Prada” mixed with a little paprika from “Gossip Girl.” But this is NBC, not CWTV. The show starts at 10:01 PM. I’m not sure what the point of that is, except maybe to make it stand out in TV listings.

The show envisions a fictitious magazine called “Royals” (the title of Kitty Kelly’s 1997 book), and the publisher is singing a contract with the “two boys” (Princes William and Harry).

The episode tonight (Feb. 14) covered an important problem. Wendy gets an unpublished manuscript for a “novel” from an agent (Lorraine Bracco) that was written by a nanny whom she had fired, and the “novel” closely parallels her life and presents her in a poor light. She is presented as a “bad mother”. (Remember the film “The Good Mother”?)

There is case law on novels resembling fiction, such as the famous “Touching” case in California in 1979. I discussed this on another blog last July in reference to a script I had written and put on my own website, to be found later by a high school principal when I was substitute teaching, link here. If a fictitious character too closely resembles a real character, in some states (particularly California) there could be grounds for libel (if the material is false) or invasion of privacy (especially false light), or possibly breach of an employment confidentiality agreement, as in the circumstances in the episode on this show.

In the show, the “author” threatens to take it to another publisher, and claims that Warner Brothers will buy the movie rights. A likely story! (It’s not that easy for novices to get money from movie studios, especially for gripe stories.) What the author could have done is self-publish it with print-on-demand (if she had about $400) or post the text on her own website (which is pretty cheap these days), to be found by search engines. The episode didn’t cover those possibilities. There was another case recently about "fiction" in blogs, discussion in my main blog, here.

On March 6, the episode had a clothing design being "stolen" and the show made the point that clothing designs are not covered by copyright law. That is one reason why designs are kept "secret." (Actually, trade secrets as such are protected by law!)

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