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August 21st, 2011

Recently a lawsuit about books (and movies) made the news, A woman named Ablene Cooper, who worked (and still works) as a maid for author Kathryn's Stockett's older brother, sued Stockett alledging that the character of Aibileen Clark in Stockett's bestselling novel The Help was based on her without her permission. The lawsuit was dismissed because it wasn't filled on time. 

The Help is a bestseller and now the movie version has done very well at the box office. Kathryn Stockett has made a lot of money off a story about three back women in Jackson, MS and the young white woman who shows an interest in their lives. Once the movie came out, the story itself got a lot more scrutiny. A certain amount of criticism (or maybe it's more lamentation) focused on the fact that like so many stories held up as being about black people, much of it is about the white people who help them. 

But the lawsuit wasn't about that. The lawsuit was about the fact that one of the maids in the story was named  Aibileen Clark. This book was billed as a novel, and I'm sure it had the usual disclaimers (full discolusre: I haven't read the book or seen the movie) about it being a work of ficiton. But it seems to me, whether you're creating a composite character from people you know, or making up a whole new characters, you should not use a name that sounds really close to a real person, especially not one you know personally and are still in contact with.  And if you give that character traits that are very similar to the real person, you're pretty much asking to be sued.

I write, so my sympathies should be with the author, but I don't blame Ms. Cooper for feeling that someone was getting rich off of her life story. Her demand of $75,000 doesn't sound out of line in light of the money from the movie deal. If Stockett had used a gerneic Southern name from that era, like Sadie Johnson or Ethel Williamson, I'd say Ms. Cooper's case would be much weaker. As it is, I feel that Stockett really ought to pay Ms. Cooper the $75,000, regardless of the lawsuit's status. As it is, everyone who knows Ablene Coooper and goes to that movie will hear the name Aibileen Clark and think that character is her. I know if I had a unique name like, say Topika Saunders, and someone who knew me wrote a book that sounded like it was about me with a character named Topeka Smth, I would feel ripped off. 

I added a poll so you cna tell me what you think.  I believe you will need an LJ account to fill it out, though. 


Poll #1771375 Do you think Katheryn Stockett owes Ablene Cooper anything?

Should Katheryn Stockett give Ablene Cooper money?

Yes! In fact it should be more than the $75,000 she asked for
1(20.0%)
Yes, give her the $75,000!
2(40.0%)
No, the author doesn't owe her a cent
1(20.0%)
Some other resolution I will mention in a comment
1(20.0%)





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