Penguin pulps Parker's poems after losing lawsuit against anthologist

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The Independent Culture

For the first time in its history, the publishing giant Penguin is being forced to withdraw one of its titles - a collection of poems by Dorothy Parker - because of a lawsuit from an amateur anthologist who successfully demonstrated that the company had lifted his editing work "comma for comma".

This week, Penguin lost an appeal seeking a last-minute stay of an order to withdraw and pulp its Complete Poems of Dorothy Parker, first published in 1999. Yesterday, a company spokesman said it had contacted all its booksellers, asking them to return their copies by the court-imposed deadline of next Tuesday.

The anthologist who brought the suit, Stuart Silverstein, a Los Angeles lawyer, has proved to be the mouse that roared, embarrassing one of the world's most prestigious publishing houses when most legal experts, at the outset, rated his chances as next to zero.

Mr Silverstein began collecting and editing unanthologised Parker poems in the early 1990s and offered 122 of them to Penguin in 1994. Penguin said it was interested only in including them in a broader collection and wanted to pay him $2,000. Mr Silverstein turned down the offer. In 1996 it was published by Scribner in a single volume, Not Much Fun - so called after Parker's response to a barman who asked her what she was having.

When the Penguin Complete Poems came out, Mr Silverstein noted that the section, "Poems Uncollected by Parker", reproduced his work unaltered except for the omission of a single poem. According to their own testimony, Penguin executives did not think this posed a copyright problem, since it was only the editing, not the poems themselves, that the company was lifting.

The federal court in Manhattan disagreed. District Judge John Keenan ruled that "the failure to credit Silverstein was wilful ... deliberate and not inadvertent", and that his editing work met the standard for creative originality required by US copyright law.

Penguin's cause was sunk by Colleen Breese, an editor who said she had photocopied Mr Silverstein's manuscript, cut out the poems and sent them to her project editor. "What Penguin did is, quite literally, the worst thing that a publisher can do," Mr Silverstein said.

What Dorothy Parker would have made of this is anybody's guess.The poems Mr Silverstein anthologised were ones she withheld from publication because she didn't think they were good enough.

¿ Sales of books voted the nation's favourites in the BBC's Big Read have doubled since featuring in the poll, according to figures published yesterday by Nielson BookScan and published in the The Bookseller. Sales of The Alchemist, by Paul Coelho, have doubled since the Big Read, while George Orwell's 1984 and Joseph Heller's Catch-22 have trebled.