AuthorHouse Loses Libel Case
by Claire Kirch, PW Daily -- 5/16/2006
A Kansas jury last week found print-on-demand subsidy publisher AuthorHouse guilty of publishing a work that libeled the author’s ex-wife, and ordered the company to pay $230,000 in actual damages to Rebecca Brandewyne, a bestselling author of mass-market historical romances. Brandewyne is best known for Outlaw Hearts and Upon a Moon-Dark Moor, both published by Love Spell, an imprint of Dorchester Publishing. Her next novel, Crystal Rose, is due from Mira Books.
According to court documents, AuthorHouse published Paperback Poison: the Romance Writer and the Hit Man by Gary D. Brock, with his current wife, Debbie Brock, in November, 2003. Some of the more incendiary claims in Paperback Poison include allegations that Brandewyne broke laws, committed adultery, plagiarized several of her books, and hired a hit man to kill her ex-husband, the book’s author.
Documents filed with the court by Brandewyne’s lawyers assert that the Brocks had informed AuthorHouse that the book had been turned down for publication by at least one other publisher due to concerns about its libelous content. “AuthorHouse knew or should have known,” the complaint reads, “that in publishing and distributing the book, [Brandewyne] would be injured.”
The Kansas jury ruled for Brandewyne even though AuthorHouse’s contracts state that the publisher assumes no legal responsibility or liability “for any loss, damage, injury, or claim to any kind or character to any person or property” in publishing the works of its clients. Jay Fowler, an attorney for Brandewyne, maintained that the “contract does not absolve AuthorHouse of their responsibility. AuthorHouse published the book, put it on the Internet, did everything a publisher does. They’re responsible for publishing this book without vetting it first.”
Fowler said that AuthorHouse claims 74 copies of Paperback Poison in total were printed, 21 were given to the author, three were sold, and the company destroyed the 50 copies they had remaining in stock after receiving complaints about the book from Brandewyne and others. “But that book’s still out there,” Fowler said. “Sometimes, [the online seller] says the book is published by Lightning Source, sometimes 1stBooks, sometimes AuthorHouse. But it all flows back to AuthorHouse.”
Bryan Smith, president and CEO of AuthorHouse, said he was disappointed that the jury ignored the First Amendment protections afforded AuthorHouse, and instead “were permitted to considner Kansas common law theories of outrage and invasion of privacy.” Smith noted that while the AuthorHouse system leaves authors in control of the content of their books, the company works to identify objectionable material. “In this case,” he said, “we acted promptly and conscientiously once we discovered the potential problems, and do not believe our actions justified the verdicts.”
AuthorHouse is considering appealing the case once the final judgments have been made. Under Kansas law, while the jury agreed that Brandewyne also should be awarded punitive damages, that amount will be determined by state court judge Jeff Goering at a hearing in Wichita scheduled for May 25.