A lawsuit against Greg Mortenson and his “Three Cups of Tea”

Today in Publisher’s Lunch, I saw this about a lawsuit against Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea.

The facts in the book (which I’ve not read) have been challenged by Jon Krakauer (whom I’ve also never read).

Of course I’m interested in the lawsuit, although I don’t know how I feel about readers suing a writer because his facts may not be factual. Maybe non-fiction books should have caveat lector inscribed on the dedication page? Anyway, here’s the quote from Publisher’s Lunch:

Separately, last week attorney for Mortenson and his co-plaintiffs (including Penguin) filed motions in the Montana US District Court where three people are seeking class-action status in a lawsuit over the books. The plaintiffs have asked the court to put the proceeds from the books, which they estimate at over $5 million, into a trust fund focused on humanitarian aid.

The responses assert that the court cannot certify a class of 4 million purchasers of Mortenson’s books because, even if false representations were made (which they do not acknowledge), the various buyers may have been fooled for different reasons. “Millions of individual findings would be required to determine whether each class member relied on a particular representation in making his or her purchase.” Penguin’s filing meticulously points out all the different reasons people buy books.

If the court agrees, it’s possible that such a ruling could insulate publishers and authors against similar class action claims in the future. (Class action suits were brought against James Frey and Doubleday–in that case most of the money went to attorneys and ads publicizing the settlement; fewer than 2,000 claimants filed for refunds.)

At the same time, Mortenson and Penguin both say that the original suit does not contain enough specifics to go forward or justify certifying such a large class. The plaintiffs “have never identified the particular false statements made by Mortenson…and fail to identify the alleged false statements in the books,” Mortenson’s attorneys write. Penguin’s counsel reiterates that “plaintiffs do not identify any particular misrepresentations or falsehoods; they just vaguely allege that defendants fabricated unspecified details or aspects of the stories contained in the books and in public statements.”

Strange, huh?

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