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JK Rowling law firm pays damages over pseudonym leak

31 July 2013

From the BBC:

Harry Potter creator JK Rowling has accepted a substantial charity donation from the law firm that revealed she was writing under a pseudonym.

The writer brought a legal action against Chris Gossage, a partner at Russells Solicitors, and his friend, Judith Callegari.

. . . .

Rowling’s solicitor told Mr Justice Tugendhat that Russells had contacted the writer’s agent after the story was published, revealing it was Mr Gossage who had divulged the confidential information to Ms Callegari.

. . . .

Mr Gossage, Ms Callegari and Russells all apologised and the firm agreed to pay the author’s legal costs.

It also agreed to make a payment, by way of damages, to The Soldiers’ Charity, formerly known as the Army Benevolent Fund.

Rowling explained that she was donating the money “partly as a thank you to the army people” who helped her with research.

“But also because writing a hero who is a veteran has given me an even greater appreciation and understanding of exactly how much this charity does for ex-servicemen and their families, and how much that support is needed,” she said.

. . . .

Rowling said she would be donating all the royalties for the book to The Soldiers’ Charity.

Link to the rest at BBC and thanks to Brendan for the tip.

PG says Rowling has turned a difficult experience into a public relations triumph. Instead of acting like a victimized celebrity and orchesrating a lengthy public vendetta against those who have wronged her, she demonstrates benevolence and generosity.

Books in General, Legal Stuff

36 Comments to “JK Rowling law firm pays damages over pseudonym leak”

  1. Very classy, and very smart.

  2. How could Callegari be held liable? Is passing on something you’ve been told actionable?

    Is the lawyer still employed?

    • There would be a case against Callegari under the tort of breach of confidence if they could prove she knew the information was given in secret. If not, there would be a case under the tort of misuse of private information since Callegari knew it was not in the public domain.

      Of course the existence of a case doesn’t mean they would win…

  3. If the lawyer is still employed, I feel vindicated in my original skepticism.

  4. P.G.

    Rowling has played an admirably straight bat and carried it for a century.

    I’m told the book is quite good and is free of Zombies and Vampires.

    I might just buy it to encourage this excellent trend!

    brendan:)

  5. C’mon, PG, are you sure Rowling was wronged? Isn’t the “leak” what turned her book from going nowhere into a best-seller? I had assumed the leak was engineered by Rowling after she had satisfied her curiosity that the book wouldn’t do much without her real name attached to it.

    • I took the opposite view, that if you are a writer, you do want the chance to write and create without baggage. Being JK Rowling is serious baggage. Not everyone is looking for the easy way, and that’s why I sympathize with her.

      Plus, your conspiracy would have to account for why a law firm (especially one that’s supposed to be big time) would want their name associated with lack of discretion. I can believe one moron works there. That they would all be morons needs accounting for, even if it’s just that they’re all someone’s brother/nephew/son.

    • Pretty sure Rowling didn’t need the sales (since she’s donating all her royalties to charity) – but that she DID want the peace of an anonymous pen name without her brand and reputation hanging over her. Kris Rusch breaks it down here, plus talks about Stephen King/Richard Bachman: http://kriswrites.com/2013/07/17/the-business-rusch-blame-the-writer/

    • Ms. Rowling has more than enough money to ignore how well her books sell, at least from an income perspective. Now she obviously wants to work as a writer, writing books that people will love outside the fact that “the lady who wrote Harry Potter wrote it.” A pseudonym is the only way to do that.

    • (Wife of a lawyer here.) The lawyer who leaked the info has probably destroyed his career (in law, anyway). The law firm is going to have serious credibility problems with its clients for a long time to come; could very likely see a lot of clients drop them and have trouble persuading new ones to trust them.

      Put themselves in that position for the sake of a publicity stunt for one client? I don’t think so.

      • Thing is, this is – or rather, was – one of *the* biggest celebrity/creative law firms in the UK.

        They do indeed seem to have destroyed their rep. It’s hard to imagine them not losing clients and business over this, which is why it’s so unlikely this was done as deliberate PR.

        That and the fact JKR clearly doesn’t need the money – and apparently doesn’t even care about it.

  6. Yeah, PG, you’re right.

  7. “are you sure Rowling was wronged?”

    Martin,

    While I suppose with the cynicism of these days, we shall never know the true answer to such a question, and I pondered it for a time.

    However, a couple of lawyers were caught with their panties down around their ankles smashing legal profession omerta rules into the weeds. They’ve coughed it, and paid up a load of folding green.

    The handling does have the look of high-cost PR, I agree. It’s just too sure-footed to look otherwise.

    That said, Rowling has been beaten around the heid with the wet fish of red tops in the past. If she has learned how to hook chin music to the boundary, so be it.

    brendan

    • That said, Rowling has been beaten around the heid with the wet fish of red tops in the past. If she has learned how to hook chin music to the boundary, so be it.

      I have absolutely no idea what that means. I’m going to assume it’s British slang.

      I feel the need to speak to a New Yorker now.

      Update: Ah. Never mind, someone else asked and you answered.

  8. Mr Justice Tugendhat — Can I just say how much I love English names? They’re so picturesque.

  9. Rowling has been beaten around the heid with the wet fish of red tops in the past. If she has learned how to hook chin music to the boundary, so be it.

    I think I love this, but translation is required. 🙂

    • EC,

      Wet Fish. The initial approval of the Red Tops, (Mirror/Sun-gossip papers,) is of mixed blessing. When Rowling started out with Potter, they were full of admiration for this single mom made good, “and she used to be a benefits recipient and wrote her stuff in a cafe on a laptop, dontchaknow?” Working-class heroine, yay!

      Then she got loaded, was officially a richie, (although she’s never flaunted it, that I know.) Consequently the wet fish started to slap her. Usual thing.

      “hook chin music to the boundary”

      Chin music is a delivery of a ball in cricket, which is bounced short off the pitch to unsettle the batsman and is aimed directly at the face/chin.

      In the hands of a fast, skilled, nasty bowler it is very intimidating. At top pace, few batters enjoy it. Some, especially less tall, are able to deal with it by a hook shot, which takes some skill and courage. If you connect, it sails away, (think home run.) If you miss, you lose teeth, break nose, etc.

      Hope that helps:)

      brendan

      • Holy cow. The only chin music I was aware of was just normal talking, like Forties slang for jawing and chewing the fat.

        That is a foul, right? It is in fact illegal to throw balls at people’s heads, and you’ll get in lots of trouble for it? Tell me that’s a foul.

        • “That is a foul, right?”

          Suburban,

          Nope, legal methodology of unsettling a batter. Generally held to be two allowed per over, but it’s a grey area, sort of variant on the quality of the pitch (the ground,) or the skill of the batter.

          The ball is not thrown direct, (that’s a beamer, and unsporting,) but bowled, and bounced off the pitch.

          In a recent test, a bowler deviated the ball 22% off line once it had pitched.

          brendan

      • Brendan, you might enjoy a blog post I did when I lived in Kennington, tongue firmly in cheek, explaining cricket to the uninformed and unwilling.

        http://1001teatimes.blogspot.com/2006/07/what-i-know-about-cricket.html

      • Cricket? Say no more.

        An unusually handsome Brit once tried to explain ‘wicket’ to my young and unsuspecting self. When he came around to the 4th use of the word, I fled and never looked back.

        Perhaps he just wanted to get rid of me 😉

        • There is a reason that Douglas Adams used cricket as both a metaphor for and a literal representation of the destruction of the entire Universe.

        • The entire point of cricket is to give you an excuse to sit outside and drink ale on a fine summers afternoon.

          • As a Yank transplant to London, I used to love going to the park on a Sunday afternoon and watching the dads playing cricket with their kids, using kiddie-size bats and wickets, with impromptu pitches set up on any little patch of green, much as American kids and dads would bring along a baseball and mitts and play catch. It was a pleasant reminder that I was living on a slightly different planet.

      • Martin M. Meiss

        Well, Brendan, I’m glad you cleared that up. I was starting to think you lander overheated when it entered the atmosphere.

  10. I wonder why, when the lawyer was caught bang to rights and he and his firm apologized, JKR thought it necessary to take the case to court? Could they not have come to a private agreement?

    I read JKR’s deposition to the Leveson Enquiry, all 33 pages of it, and she does seem a tad litigious.

    • Maybe that’s why Hermione became a lawyer?

      I think she was right to do something public with this, although I’m surprised the UK equivalent of the Bar Association didn’t do anything. Of course, the English version of the Bar Association is too busy selling off rare books donated to them by a signed agreement that they’d never sell the books, so maybe she lacked confidence in them?

    • Hmm. Well, if I were in JKR’s shoes, I’d want to send a message about what would happen NEXT time someone thought about spilling my pseudonym. Something to the effect of “Blow my cover, and I’ll sink you.”

    • I’m puzzled by the idea that she was in the wrong for pursuing the matter. It’s not a small thing to put your trust in someone, then have them betray it. It’s not a small thing to entrust a portion of your livelihood to someone, and have them damage it beyond the repair. She can’t use the Galbraith pseudonym anymore; she can’t continue to derive from it what she sought to derive from it. And it’s the lawyer’s fault entirely; there should be a price for that.

      If the firm meant no harm, then this is their wake up call to make sure they have adults working for them, not impulsive blabbermouth teenagers. A public caning is a small price to pay to drive home that lesson.

      And yeah, I’m with Jim Self on this–the next firm she hires will know better. Any threats she makes will have teeth.

      • This firm handled her financial matters. Tell me, in the wake of them completely blowing any and all credibility on their promise of privacy, would you continue to blindly trust that they had been perfectly on the level with everything else?

        Me, I’d want a very sharp lawyer, a forensic accountant and assistants, and a legal mandate for discovery to double-check all the monetary transactions that passed through them, and everything else they’d touched. Because when a trust is betrayed like that, it could be a simple slip, or it could be an indicator of a widespread rot in the organization.

  11. I agree this is very gracious of Rowling. What a wonderful example of how to stand up for yourself and ask for fairness without having to crush the person who wronged you.

    It’s always wonderful when a children’s author is a role model in the public eye.

    It’s also not an anomaly; this is consistent with the way she has handled other situations as well.

  12. Patricia Sierra

    Never read the Potter books (no interest in that sort of fantasy), but her new book being outed is what prompted me to download the sample and then ultimately purchase it. So on one hand, I’m sorry she was outed if she didn’t want to be, but on the other I’m happy to have found another book that I think I’ll enjoy.

    • I keep having the lovely suspicion that she’s snuck out books under several names. This is just the only one that got caught. All this while she’s been happily writing, and we never knew …

      C’mon, Rowling! Write us some adult fantasy! Oh please, oh please?

  13. The law firm has donated a ‘substantial’ sum to the veterans’ charity as well. I imagine she ‘suggested’ that and they agreed. what happened to her was awful. Imagine that she’d made an unusual will and they ‘leaked’ that information because some blabbermouth lawyer wanted to impress his wife’s friend with his inside knowledge. Lawyers detain very powerful information. there’s a reason why they are bound to strict confidentiality. Blabbermouth lawyers can ruin lives.

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