August 14, 2006

Encyclopedia psych out

One of my favorite features of the old Modern Humorist was John Warner's Encyclopedia Brown parodies. If I need to explain who Encyclopedia Brown is, you might as well stop reading here. The rest of you will want to hurry over to Amazon and pre-order John's new book, Encyclopedia Brown And the Mysterious Presidency of George W. Bush, featuring (mostly) all new adventures of the enterprising and increasingly liberal 10-year-old genius and his coded-lesbian sidekick Sally.

Check out a few sample chapters [PDF], including The Case of The Million Little Lies, then drop in on John's MySpace blog, where he's charting his effort to manipulate his Amazon ranking by having all his friends pre-order on the same day (today), "in an attempt to expose the Amazon rankings for the fraud they are. (Please note that if “Encyclopedia Brown
and the Mysterious Presidency of George W. Bush” reaches the top 1000, the Amazon rankings are not 'fraudulent,' but instead a leading indicator of the top books in the country.)"

Update: Ranking at 2:20 pm: 627. Also, major media coverage.

Posted by Daniel Radosh


I've done my part and preordered--I loved those books as a kid, and this looks very funny.

A question--while I view this as a good-natured parody, the actual folks behind the original books might be less inclined to do so. Has it been cleared and does John have counsel?

In the Comedy Central interview I link in that update, John shrugs off the lawsuit threat, citing fair use. I think he's on solid ground, but I do know that when we talked about doing an EB book back in the Modern Humorist days, our hypercautious lawyers told us that while we could get away with the parody on the web, once we put it in print form, we would have to change the name. I think we kicked around a "Dictionary Smith" proposal for a while.

Oh, I think he has a darn fine defense to claims of copyright/trademark infringement if they were brought (and I do this for a living), but I don't know how protective Sobol and his publisher might be. Just the filing of a lawsuit can be a powerful thing.

First, many thanks to Daniel for the mention. He was to my storming of the Amazon charts as the superheated, globally-warmed ocean is to killer hurricanes.

A lawsuit would be a powerful thing for my publicity campaign. The original publisher/author could sue, but they wouldn't have a shot in court for all kinds of reasons, ranging from the fact that I've transformed the work sufficiently to that they couldn't show any kind of monetary damages. In fact, if anything, the more successful this book is, the better it will be for the originals since it would remind young parents of my generation about the books. The characters aren't trademarked, so we're cool on that too. Yiddish with Dick and Jane sold a couple hundred thousand extra copies after they got sued. I don't wish for a lawsuit of course, but it wouldn't be fatal.

We were going to call the altered EB, Almanac Jones. The law has actually clarified and sharpened since those days, so the MH lawyers might have been working under a slightly different set of assumptions.

Yiddish with dick and Jane??? Now I GOT to have that! Hear that Daniel? The b'day is coming up.

Apparently Donald Sobol and Scholastic disagreed that this book was not copyright infringement, which is why it has been pulled everywhere. If Warner had been smart, he would have changed the names so that although the reader would know whom the book was parodying, it would not be violating Sobol's intellectual property rights.

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