The heated legal controversy between bestselling Western author Louis L'Amour and Carroll & Graf, a small New York publisher, gained a few more degrees yesterday when a federal judge temporarily restrained both sides from distributing competing collections of the author's work.
L'Amour filed suit on June 22 in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in an attempt to prevent the 6-month-old house from publishing two unauthorized collections of his detective and Western stories, charging that the volumes could constitute a copyright violation and that the use of his name falsely implied authorial control and authorization.
Counsel for both parties eventually agreed that copyrights on the disputed material--detective and Western stories written for pulp magazines in the '40s and '50s--have expired. And on July 8, Judge Charles Stewart ruled that Carroll & Graf was free to publish. But he ordered the house to alter its covers, which too closely resembled previous L'Amour editions published by Bantam Books, and to print a statement on each cover acknowledging that L'Amour had not authorized the collection. Stewart also ordered attorneys for both sides to keep the choice of stories secret--even from L'Amour himself.
Yet on July 12, L'Amour began notifying booksellers that Bantam would "rush into print" with authorized editions containing the "same titles and including all the stories" in the Carroll & Graf editions, which are now being printed. He sent approximately 1,000 telegrams, mailgrams and letters to booksellers in the United States and Canada, announcing that he had been working "around the clock" and urging them to stock the authorized editions to avoid "a disservice to my many fans."
So on Thursday, Carroll & Graf filed a complaint alleging that the court-ordered confidentiality had been violated and asking that Bantam be restrained from using the same stories and titles, similar covers or Carroll & Graf's copies of original publications. Bantam's authorized editions--which are said to contain introductions, historical notes and editorial emendations by L'Amour--may be ready to ship. A Bantam spokesman had no comment on the subject yesterday.
Jonathan Gaynin, attorney for Carroll & Graf, said yesterday,"since none of our people disclosed what the titles were, the leak had to come from somewhere else, outside the court." In other words, said L'Amour's attorney, James Goodale of Debevoise & Plimpton, "their allegation is that the only way Louis could have gotten the information is from us." He dismissed the charge as "part of the rough-and-tumble of litigation. It's clearly a ploy to gain time."
The dispute began in early June at the American Booksellers Association convention in Dallas, where Carroll & Graf was touting two collections of L'Amour stories "never before published in book form." The news came as a shock to L'Amour, who had never heard of the house. When his attorneys contacted publisher Kent Carroll, he informed them of the copyright expiration and then offered to pay L'Amour royalties and an additional sum for writing introductions. But he would not reveal the stories' titles, which he called "in effect a trade secret," fearing that Bantam or another house would issue its own collections.
Immediately after Judge Stewart's ruling on July 8, Bantam announced that it would produce authorized versions "as soon as possible." Carroll said at the time, "It doesn't surprise me. They have a perfect right to do it, too. I'd be churlish indeed if I were to complain about that." Yesterday he said that Carroll & Graf's complaint "goes to the heart of what the case was about--what happens when a small publisher goes up against a big publisher."
Judge Stewart has scheduled a Monday hearing on the complaint.