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Estate of Hemingway v. Random House, Inc. - 23 N.Y.2d 341, 296 N.Y.S.2d 771, 244 N.E.2d 250 (1968)

Rule:

In the light of constitutional guarantees of free speech, N.Y. Civ. Rights Law § 51 may not be applied to afford recovery to a public figure or in matters of public interest in the absence of proof that the defendant published the item with knowledge of its falsity or in reckless disregard of the truth. 

Facts:

Hemingway died in 1961. During the last 13 years of his life, a close friendship existed between him and A.E. Hotchner, a younger and far less well-known writer. Hotchner, who met Hemingway in the course of writing articles about him, became a favored drinking and traveling companion of the famous author, a frequent visitor to his home and the adapter of some of his works for motion pictures and television. During these years, Hemingway's conversation with Hotchner, in which others sometimes took part, was filled with anecdote, reminiscence, literary opinion and revealing comment about actual persons on whom some of Hemingway's fictional characters were based. Hotchner made careful notes of these conversations soon after they occurred, occasionally recording them on a portable tape recorder. During Hemingway's lifetime, Hotchner wrote and published several articles about his friend in which he quoted some of this talk at length. After Hemingway's death, Hotchner wrote "Papa Hemingway," drawing upon his notes and his recollections, and in 1966 it was published by the defendant Random House subtitled "a personal memoir", a serious and revealing biographical portrait of the world-renowned writer. The Estate of Hemingway and his widow filed a complaint seeking an injunction and damages for unauthorized appropriation of common law copyright, unfair competition, and breach of fiduciary relationship by publishing conversations of Hemingway. The Court dismissed the complaint and the plaintiffs appealed.

Issue:

Did the federal district court err when it dismissed the case for failure to state a claim?

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

The court affirmed the dismissal of plaintiffs' action because evidence showed that the author permitted defendant to write about him and publish conversations, there was no proof of unfair competition with other literary works, and defendant was under no fiduciary duty because there were no restrictions on defendant's right to quote actual conversations.

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