This afternoon I received a letter from the law firm representing A+E Television Networks ordering me to cease and desist sale of Unearthing the Truth on the grounds that the book could be mistaken for an authorized edition and that its cover violated Scott Wolter’s intellectual property. According to the lawyer, Wolter is asserting that the “hooked X” design, of the letter X with an added line on the upper right stave, belongs to him and that other uses of it are a violation of his book cover design for The Hooked X: “Your book cover copies the unique cover and especially the ‘X’ with a ‘tail’ used on Scott Wolter’s book, ‘The Hooked X.’ … it is clearly not a coincidence that you copied his book cover…”
I have been given seven days to comply or face a lawsuit.
As you can see, the design elements are not particularly unique to Wolter:
And as a matter of fact, I do not own a copy of the Hooked X book, and the similarity in design is in fact a coincidence. I added the Hooked X to my cover design because the space above the title looked a bit empty. The actual inspiration for the cover was, not coincidentally, the thing I was critiquing: America Unearthed. Amazing that A+E did not notice that.
I tried very hard to draw inspiration from the logo without actually duplicating or coming too close to anything in it (unauthorized Twilight and Twilight Zone guides steal more blatantly from their the graphic design of their inspirations), and for my efforts I get accused of stealing from something completely different!
I had a nice conversation with the lawyer involved, and as a result of the conversation I have agreed to make a minor revision to the book cover to include the word “unauthorized” in order to make A+E Networks happy and to avoid confusion among the literally tens of people who will likely encounter my book, one or two of whom may not be aware that a critique is generally critical of the thing being critiqued. This means that the book will not be for sale until the change has gone through. This will take several days.
I cannot, however, make the change until A+E agrees to drop the claim that I am violating Scott Wolter’s intellectual property by using the “hooked X.” This is especially frustrating because A+E does not own the Hooked X book or its intellectual property. They claim the expansive right to act on behalf of Scott Wolter as “talent” for the company, another remarkable claim since Wolter’s intellectual missteps and academic misrepresentation do not fall under the company’s purview, according a network representative I spoke with last month. But the shape of a letter on the cover of a self-published book released six years before joining A+E? Totally their business.
I assert that the hooked X is in the public domain because the character appears on the Kensington Rune Stone, uncovered in 1898 and purportedly dating back to 1362 according to Wolter himself. This puts the shape squarely in the public domain. Further, (a) Wolter’s book features a stone-carved hooked X from the Rune Stone, while mine features a computer-generated hooked X; (b) Wolter’s book superimposes the actual caving over a stone-textured physical map of North America while mine uses a slight shadow over a political map of part of the United States; (c) Wolter’s book is brown and mine is blue; (d) the two designs are in no way substantively similar, not in the lettering, positioning of the title, use of ancillary elements, etc. Even if he did own the hooked X, my book is a substantive critique of the claims made by Wolter about the “hooked X” on America Unearthed, and therefore an illustration of that character is an essential part of the criticism.
When I challenged A+E’s right to dispute the cover design since they don’t own the hooked X, the lawyer told me that I would be wise to accept the changes rather than get Scott Wolter’s lawyer involved. “Do you really want to deal with two sets of lawyers?” she asked. Actually, I’d be thrilled to have Scott Wolter try to make a case in court that he owns the hooked X. That would be a bizarre attempt to rewrite history. But if Disney can try to trademark the Dia de los Muertos, I guess Wolter can try to claim the hooked X as his personal fief.
Well, here is some more people he can sue. Note that the hooked X is clearly visible on the cover on the left, while the one at right is suspiciously similar to the design Wolter uses and also has the hooked X visible.
So how did this happen? Well, the lawyer’s letter mentions the eBook version of Unearthing the Truth, which had been available for less than 24 hours before the letter arrived. According to the lawyer, A+E Networks handed her the complaint after “talent” informed the parent company of the situation. Since the “talent” on America Unearthed is Scott Wolter himself, I guess we know who is really the one willing to use the power of the law to “suppress” the “truth.” I do not believe it is a coincidence that the “talent” became upset just days after a History spokesperson invited me to provide the network with a critique of the show. This is the thanks I get for taking them at their word that they genuinely wanted to know how to make the program better.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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