Friday, June 15, 2007

Plagiarism dispute in central Illinois ends?

Dave Bakke wrote:

In early 2006, I [Bakke] wrote about this situation involving two authors and their books about the Sears homes in Carlinville. The authors are Laurie Flori of Carlinville and Rosemary Thornton (aka Rosemary Fuller), who was living in Godfrey at the time but has since moved to the state of Virginia.

Both women wrote books on the Sears homes. From 1908–1940, Sears, Roebuck and Co. sold more than 100,000 homes by mail order. Thornton’s book “The Houses That Sears Built: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sears Catalog Homes” was published in 2002. Flori’s book, “Additionally Speaking” detailed the history of the Standard Addition Neighborhood in Carlinville that consisted mainly of Sears homes. It was published in 2005.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch also covered the story:

Flori had contended that her reputation and public speaking career was ruined by Thornton, who allegedly contacted various libraries and Oprah Winfrey's show to claim
she was a copycat.

Flori denied the allegation and said she had researched the homes in the Standard Addition neighborhood — built in by Standard Oil in the early 20th century to support mine workers — since she and her husband bought a home there in 1983.


Companies like Standard Oil purchased Sears homes for expanding operations. Future homeowners, accustomed to ordering the staples of life from the Sears catalog, suddenly found cheap homes made of quality materials.

Homes ran from several hundred to several thousand dollars, sometimes 30 or 40 percent below market rates for a home. Buyers provided the land, and the muscle.

[The parties settled.]

A final dismissal order and stipulation is expected to be entered Friday in U.S. District Court in Springfield.

"Pretty much any time someone litigates an issue both sides in the end have lost something," said Flori's attorney James Fahey. "It's a passion among both of the parties and both felt strongly they had been wronged."

The Telegraph also covered the story:

A dispute between two authors who wrote separate books about Sears and Roebuck catalog homes ended with a settlement and an apology, one of them said Tuesday.

“I didn’t get everything I asked for, but at least in the agreement I signed Monday, I did get a retraction and an apology from Rosemary Thornton,” Laurie Flori of Carlinville said.

Flori filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Springfield in February 2006, asking in her complaint for a declaratory judgment of non-infringement of copyright and defamation against Thornton.

Thornton had sent a “cease-and-desist” letter to Flori in 2005, asking her to stop selling Flori’s book about Sears-built homes. Thornton’s letter accused Flori of willful copyright infringement and plagiarism.

IPBiz notes as a minor practice point: a strong "cease and desist" letter can give rise to jurisdiction for a declaratory judgment action.

The Telegraph also noted:

The settlement agreement shows that Thornton signed her letter of retraction on May 11, which states:

“I, Rosemary Thornton, hereby acknowledge I have published statements to third parties asserting Laurie Flori’s book, ‘Additionally Speaking,’ infringed my copyright and plagiarized passages in my book, ‘The Houses That Sears Built.’ I was mistaken in my assertions. I now retract all allegations in their entirety and apologize. I no longer contest Flori’s contention that she arrived at her statements and writings independently of my published works.”

IPBiz notes that this micro-story illustrates some of the themes of NTP v. RIM, with an earlier mover going after a more successful, later-in-time, mover, and with both parties rather adamant in their position. In patent law, UNLIKE in copyright law, there is no independent creation defense, so RIM got a costly settlement.


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