November 4, 2014

UChicago Press sued for copyright infringement in book

A recent lawsuit accuses a University of Chicago Press book of violating copyright.

Elizabeth Rhodes, a professor at Duke University, and Margaret Greer, a professor at Boston College, produced an English-language edition of María de Zayas y Sotomayor’s Exemplary Tales of Love and Tales of Disillusion that was published by the University of Chicago Press in 2009. In their introduction, they noted that they used a Spanish-language edition of Exemplary Tales of Love, edited by Julian Olivares, as the basis for the portion of their translation based on that book.

In the acknowledgements portion of the University of Chicago Press edition, Olivares, a professor at the University of Houston, is listed as one of several people who provided “assistance and support.” Olivares’s suit calls this a misrepresentation. He denies that the authors were in communication with him, and said that he never gave them permission to use his edition, according to his lawyer, William Ramey.

Olivares alleges that their translation violated his copyright on that edition. Olivares’s book was published with a copyright notice, which asserts copyright over a work but does not guarantee that protection will be extended. Olivares’s work was registered with the U.S. copyright office a little more than a week before his case was filed.

The lawsuit was filed in the Federal District Court of the Eastern District of Texas on October 17. Both translators, the University of Chicago, and the University of Chicago Press were named as defendants in the lawsuit.

The registration of copyright with the Copyright Office for the University of Chicago Press translation listed the “original 17th century Spanish language text” as the book’s “pre-existing material” and did not mention Olivares’s edition. The University of Chicago is listed as the copyright claimant.

U.S. copyright code gives the copyright owner exclusive rights to prepare derivative works, like translations, of copyrighted works.

A book written in the 17th century would be past copyright protection. Olivares’s lawsuit claims that his edition was a “new and different version” that contained “a large amount of material wholly original with the plaintiff” and so therefore eligible for protection. William Ramey, Olivares’s lawyer, said Olivares’s edition was a result of years spent trying to reconcile different publications of Exemplary Tales of Love in order to reflect the original as accurately as he could.

Ramey said that Olivares became aware of the translation of his edition when he was congratulated for it at a professional conference. He then examined Greer and Rhodes’s translation and decided portions of it had come from his edition.

The University of Chicago Press and the University of Chicago declined to comment on the subject.