Copyright Suit Filed Over Thomas Friedman Book Cover

By: Dave Astor

A dispute over the original cover of “The World is Flat” — columnist Thomas Friedman’s best-selling book — is still simmering months after the cover was pulled.

Late Monday, a copyright-infringement lawsuit was filed in United States District Court in New York City, according to Manhattan-based attorney Howard Gotbetter. He told E&P that the plaintiff is artist Ed Miracle, whose painting was on the original cover of “The World is Flat,” and that defendants include Friedman; the book’s publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (FSG); and others.

The original cover of Friedman’s book featured Miracle’s 1976 painting of two old-fashioned ships about to sail off the edge of a flat earth.

“I was walking down the street in Washington, D.C., eight or nine years ago and saw the poster in a map store,” said Friedman, when reached by E&P. “It came with a caption: ‘I told you so.’ It made me laugh. I bought it and framed it on my office wall.”

When it came time to choose a cover for “The World is Flat,” The New York Times columnist suggested Miracle’s painting to FSG. The publishing company tracked down the Paradise Cay firm selling the poster, and got permission to use it for a reported $750.

The original cover, left, features the artwork by Ed Miracle. The newer version at right is now in print.

But Miracle’s agent, Rose von Perbandt, told E&P that Paradise Cay did not have the right to grant that permission. “The only person that had authorization to sell ‘I told you so’ posters during the 1990s was Dan Machut. It expired in 1996. Miracle has never had a relationship with Paradise Cay and all of their activities occurred without his knowledge or consent.”

Von Perbandt said Miracle should have been asked directly for permission to use his painting on the book’s cover. The agent added that Miracle’s signature wasn’t on the painting as it appeared on Friedman’s book, and that the color was somewhat different from his original painting. And, she said, Miracle was upset about being associated with a book containing political views he didn’t necessarily agree with.

“Mr. Friedman’s representatives implied that Miracle should be grateful that a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer ‘chose’ his work — stating that the resulting publicity would benefit him,” said von Perbandt. “Some benefit — removing his name from the image.” She added that Miracle is already a well-known artist who worked in California, England, France, and the Mideast before settling in Florida.

When notified this April that Paradise Cay’s right to sell the art was in question, FSG pulled the original cover and substituted a new one. But von Perbandt said thousands of books with the original cover are still circulating around the U.S. and have been released abroad.

She added that Friedman has been seen with the original cover at book-signing events since April. Friedman said he hasn’t come to these events with books featuring the original cover, but that it’s possible he has signed books with that cover that were handed to him by readers.

Friedman, who’s syndicated by the New York Times News Service, told E&P: “We didn’t try to cheat anybody. We did it [purchased the rights] through normal channels. We thought this was all legal, kosher, and right. I feel bad that this happened, and I couldn’t feel more bad for him [Miracle].”

E&P first learned of the cover-art dispute when von Perbandt sent an e-mail responding to Friedman’s winning of an award for the book (E&P Online, Nov. 22). She wrote, in part: “Is there no one in the press that sees the irony of a book on globalization — whose author stresses the need to protect against piracy and strengthen intellectual property protection — that is infringing the copyrights of the artist whose work was used on the cover?”

Friedman said that FSG tried to make a deal with Miracle after the dispute came to light, and that FSG “took his art off the cover.”

An FSG executive declined to talk with E&P on the record. But the company e-mailed a statement, originally issued several months ago, from FSG Director of Publicity Sarita Varma. It read: “FSG obtained permission for use of the painting on the original jacket, but the artist claims that the use is unauthorized. At this time we have no opinion on the merits of his claim, but there is such great demand for the book that we do not want to hold up printing and distribution, so we decided to use new cover art as we return to press and until we sort things out.”

Von Perbandt said that a law firm in the United Kingdom has also been consulted about possibly taking legal action on Miracle’s behalf.

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