ContractsProf Blog

Editor: Myanna Dellinger
University of South Dakota School of Law

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

A Million Little Fact Checkers

In addition to this lawsuit, yesterday’s Wall Street Journal mentions yet another lawsuit over James Frey’s sham exaggerated memoir A Million Little Pieces. The lawsuits raise the issue of what precautions publishers should take in publishing memoirs.  Should publishers undertake extensive fact investigations?  Should they include warranty clauses in contracts with authors? The Wall Street Journal article reported:

Some publishers say the "Million Little Pieces" incident may well result in some changes in how books are vetted. "The entire process will have to be rethought," says James Atlas, president of Atlas Books LLC and the author of "My Life in the Middle Ages: A Survivor's Tale" a memoir published last year by News Corp.’s HarperCollins imprint. "Publishers will scrutinize far more closely what they publish, especially in the realm of memoirs. But short of having some kind of honor code I don't see what can really be done except to exercise far greater vigilance."

Some do. Jeff Kleinman, an agent with Folio Literary Management, said publishers could add a clause to the author's warranty section in their contracts, stating that to the best of the writer's knowledge the facts in the book are true. "The point being, if the author's found to egregiously misrepresent the facts, the author could be sued for breach of contract," said Mr. Kleinman via email. "Wouldn't that be a lot simpler than asking an agent, or even a publisher, to verify and fact-check every book?"

The article points out that having a million little fact-checkers is expensive. However, would a warranty clause really deter an author from telling lies exaggerating the truth?

Even if deterrence could potentially be costly for publishers, it seems that Oprah exacted her own dose of retribution by humiliating questioning Frey in a recent interview. The most interesting question here seems to be: has demand for the book increased since the "controversy" broke?

[Meredith R. Miller]

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