As if to confirm this trend, my “Fifty shades of gray” book proved a big hit right off the bat and I sold my initial order of fifty copies within a day. I then landed a deal with major online retailer Firebox.com, who loved the idea and also appreciated that I’d ensured that even the darkest grey I’d specified for the last section of pages in the book was still light enough to be written on, thus rendering the finished book both a simple joke and a useful notebook as well. I immediately ordered two thousand more copies of my newest blank creation and looked forward to a very successful sales run. But it wasn’t to be…
On the very day that 2,000 copies of my new book rolled off the printing presses, I received a letter from Random House. The timing couldn’t have been more unfortunate. Now, bear in mind that my first “proper” book, “Ideas Man” was published by Random House, so at first glance I thought the letter was about that. Oh, that it was! Instead, the letter in front of me was a very legal – and very detailed – “cease and desist” from the head lawyer at Random House UK.
It outlined how Random House believed that I was guilty of “passing off” my version as the E.L. James original and said they would proceed with legal action if I continued to sell my spoof creation. Oh dear. This was a big problem.
And so, this was the point I jumped on the phone to engage the services of a brilliant lawyer I’ve worked with for a while now. He’s become fairly accustomed to me calling up with some legal problem I’ve got myself into with a corporate giant – for example, with Google over my Nigeria Google site or with Apple over my iNotePad.
My lawyer carefully considered the predicament I was in and then chuckled as he told me, “It’s actually a grey area, Shed.” I didn’t think the situation could get any more absurd, but this was when he started to explain the legal precedent in cases like this: it was curiously named “idiots in a hurry”.
As I took in the bizarre and mildly shocking phrase, my lawyer outlined that the term related to an influential infringement case where a high court judge set a legal precedent by creating a framework for situations in this area of the law. I listened with fascination (and incredulity) as he explained that the judge in question had given a decree outlining how to tell whether any given product in a case like this was infringing someone else’s product. The judge pronounced that, if the general public, whom he deemed “idiots in a hurry” could mistake a new item for a previously established one, then the owners of the original product would be on a higher legal ground.
So, in my case, this legal framework allowed a lawyer to ask whether an idiot in a hurry could mistake my book for the original “Fifty shades of grey”, and if this was deemed to be the case, then I was in trouble.
Now, it’s pretty fair to argue that my version, given that it doesn’t contain a single word on its pages, would be unlikely to be mistaken for the record-breaking international bestselling phenomenon by E.L. James. It wasn’t like I was creating a fake Louis Vuitton handbag and was trying to pass it off as the real thing.
But actually, in order for the joke of my “Fifty shades of gray” book to work, the front cover of my version had to look plausible enough, so that then the surprise of finding blank grey pages inside could provide (vague, in some cases, I admit) amusement. Thus, poetically, this was why in my particular case there was a legal “grey area”.
My lawyer told me that I could consider plastering each individual book with a large sticker that clearly stated that my book wasn’t an official product and that it was a joke.
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