James P. Flynn, Managing Director of the Firm and Member in the Litigation and Employment, Labor & Workforce Management practices, in the firm’s Newark office, authored an article in ILN IP Insider, titled “With Friends Like These: Copyright Implications of Novelists Drawing Inspiration from the Real Lives They Cross.”

Following is an excerpt:

Fiction writing has a curious claim on truth. ...

[W]e face a world where writers seek to reveal truth, even in their fiction.  As Dermott Hayes noted in stating that “[a] writer will find inspiration anywhere. They have to look and see, that’s all. Then they have to write.”  So, while writers have a compulsion to use what they know from life to create their works of imagined lives, they will draw not only on events central and personal to themselves but on many things intersecting or tangential to the writer’s own life.  They do this to create works of fiction expressing the writers’ truths by using, altering, extending, or supplementing others’ reality, and sometimes even use what others have written about their own experiences.  The question then arises as to whether the fiction writer alone owns the copyright to work drawn in whole or part from another’s writings or experience.

That question recently arose in Sonya Larson v. Dawn Dorland Perry, a September 14, 2023 decision of the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, concerning “a story by Sonya Larson called The Kindest—which was inspired by a letter posted to Facebook by Dawn Dorland Perry [(“Dorland”), another Boston area writer], about her decision to donate a kidney to a stranger,” as noted in Bloomberg. By way of further background, “Larson, part of the same writers’ community in Boston, was in the group [to which Dorland posted the letter] and subsequently wrote three different versions of The Kindest, each of which resembled—to varying degrees—Dorland’s letter.” Id. ...

The District Court’s September 2023 opinion addressed “three legal issues: copyright infringement, defamation, and intentional interference with business relationships … [T]he court rules in Larson’s favor and against Dorland on the copyright claims and in Dorland’s favor and against Larson on the defamation and intentional interference claims.” ...

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