Will the JT Leroy verdict set a precedent?

Galleycat had an interesting take on the Laura Albert/JT Leroy verdict last week (“But What If “JT Leroy” Wasn’t a Fraud?“):

Even if one maintains reservations on the appropriateness of the lengths Albert went to in order to ensure “JT” was the public face of her work – and acknowledging the point that signing a contract under a, let’s say, extra-legal name probably isn’t the most kosher of actions – if we’re going to start finding fraud in authors choosing literary personae at odds with their material realities… well, let’s just say it’s not exactly a healthy precedent.

It’s an excellent point. It would be extremely troubling if authors started getting sued en masse because the way they represent themselves isn’t exactly true. (You mean you’re not really a vampire who wears sunglasses and rides motorcycles?!) Remember that this has to do not with James Frey-like inaccuracies in a memoir — the book in question, Sarah, was a novel — but with the fact that the author whose sensational story helped sell the book did not, in fact, exist.

The particulars of this case, however, are so unique that it seems highly unlikely it could be used as a precedent. (Full disclosure: I am not a lawyer.) Probably the judge should have told everyone to go home before it even went to trial, but I find myself in the strange position of sympathizing with the movie producers who thought they were getting a hot property. After all, art and artist seem inextricably entwined these days. And even if Sarah is a good novel on its own merits, would it have gotten the same kind of attention without the mysterious persona of its author? The meta-movie solution proposed by the plaintiff does have kind of a twisted brilliance, acknowledging the true nature of the original deal: what they wanted was a movie based on a book written by a person of note. And Laura Albert is suddenly far more interesting than JT Leroy.

But all those arguments aside, and as Galleycat notes, it could come down simply to the fact that the name on the dotted line wasn’t connected to a real person. Surely that can’t be a legal contract.

But who knows? Maybe Tucker Max will be sued once it’s revealed that he’s actually a 40-year-old virgin.

Which would leave me conflicted. Certainly someone should sue him for something. But then again . . .

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About the Author:

Keir Graff is the editor of Booklist Online and the author of five books. His most recent is the middle-grade novel, The Other Felix.

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