Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Can’t Tell a Book by Its Cover, or Even Its Title, It Turns Out

By Joanne Kaufman writing in The New York Times
When Missy Chase Lapine, author of the cookbook “The Sneaky Chef” that suggests ways to hide fruit and vegetables in dishes for finicky children, was angered by the publication of “Deceptively Delicious,” a similar book by Jessica Seinfeld (a k a Mrs. Jerry Seinfeld), she had recourse. This month, she sued for copyright infringement and defamation.

But when Raymond Sokolov, the restaurant columnist for The Wall Street Journal, saw that a new food book was coming out with the same title as the cookbook he had published more than 30 years ago, all he could do was stew because book titles cannot be copyrighted.
In 1976, Mr. Sokolov wrote “The Saucier’s Apprentice: A Modern Guide to Classic French Sauces for the Home.” Published by Knopf, the book is now in its 16th printing and Mr. Sokolov, who is also food and wine columnist for the magazine Smart Money, continues to get modest royalty checks.

A few months ago, courtesy of a friend in the publishing industry, Mr. Sokolov learned that W. W. Norton had on its spring list “The Saucier’s Apprentice: One Long Strange Trip Though the Great Cooking Schools of Europe,” by Bob Spitz, author of the highly regarded “The Beatles: The Biography.” (For the record, the humorist S. J. Perelman published an essay called “The Saucier’s Apprentice” in The New Yorker about two decades before Mr. Sokolov’s book).
There are many instances of books with the same titles: “March” by Geraldine Brooks and “The March” by E. L. Doctorow; “Gone” by the mystery writer Lisa Gardner and “Gone” by the mystery writer Jonathan Kellerman; “Leap of Faith” by Danielle Steel and “Leap of Faith” by Queen Noor of Jordan, to name a few.

But in Mr. Sokolov’s view, it’s one thing to duplicate another author’s use of a common phrase or expression and quite another to echo a play on words, particularly when both books are in the same genre. “I think it’s just in bad taste,” he said. “I looked into it, and I’m certain that this was not a blunder, that Norton knew about the existence of my book.”
Mr. Spitz said that he came up with the title when he was working on the proposal for his “Saucier’s Apprentice.” He added that until recently, he had no knowledge of Mr. Sokolov’s title, which is listed on Amazon.com. “I interviewed a lot of people in the food industry for my book,” Mr. Spitz said, “and not one of them mentioned there was already something else with that title. I thought it was a stroke of genius, but as it turns out it was Ray Sokolov’s stroke of genius.”
Nach Waxman, the owner of Kitchen Arts & Letters, a shop on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, said Norton was wrong to keep Mr. Spitz’s title. “It’s derivative of a book that is still in print in the same field and that has 30 years’ standing,” he said.

Mr. Sokolov said he hoped Norton would “promote the hell out of the book and that a confused buying public will buy my ‘Saucier’s Apprentice’ instead of Spitz’s.”
Although he is not now working on a book, he said, “I am thinking about one, and maybe I should call it ‘The Da Vinci Code.’ ”

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