Last year I met authoress Kathryn Stockett at the Book Expo in New York City. Ms. Stockett was signing copies of her best-selling novel, The Help. I absolutely enjoyed this book, so much so that, I gave a copy to a good friend of mine. For those of you who haven’t read it, the story takes place in Jackson, Mississippi in 1962. The chapters are narrated through the eyes of three women: two black maids and a white college graduate.
The author does a great job at depicting the city, the characters, and the setting of the time, not to mention diction. This story is poignant —funny, sad, and realistic without overdoing it. It has just the right amount of each element.
According to the author, her inspiration came from her real-life maid, Demetrie, who died when Stockett was only sixteen. Now a woman in Jackson, Mississippi claims she’s the maid depicted in the book. She says the alliteration of her name and physical attributes are similar. This woman has filed a lawsuit against Ms. Stockett and is seeking damages of $75,000 for emotional distress. This inspiration is being called unpermitted appropriation, which is the unwanted and unpermitted use of the name or likeness of an ordinary, uncelebrated person for advertising or other such commercial purposes.
Give me a break! This is outrageous! Writers find inspiration in almost anything, living or not, past or present, and the writer’s imagination is limitless. Should writers stifle their creativity in order to avoid a potential lawsuit? Stop worrying about typos, bad editing, or even getting published. Writers, meet your new problem: blackmail!
Do you think it’s fair to limit your creativity in order to avoid unpermitted appropriation?