You may have seen this morning’s item about the judgment against “JT Leroy“, as Laura Albert was ordered by a jury to pay $116,500 to the production company that bought the rights to her novel, Sarah. But here’s the thing: Even if one maintains reservations on the appropriateness of the lengths Albert went to in order to ensure “JT” was the public face of her work—and acknowledging the point that signing a contract under a, let’s say, extra-legal name probably isn’t the most kosher of actions—if we’re going to start finding fraud in authors choosing literary personae at odds with their material realities… well, let’s just say it’s not exactly a healthy precedent.
Keep in mind that this lawsuit isn’t over a memoir, but a novel assumed (albeit with encouragement) to be semi-autobiographical, and the claim that a film couldn’t be based on the book if it wasn’t “real.” Again, setting aside Albert’s elaborate ruses, that precedent doesn’t seem right. I hope it was the contracts under JT’s name that tipped the scales, because the literary implications are troubling. Levi Asher of Literary Kicks agrees. “If Doubleday or Random House’s legal teams had defended this case, they would have wiped the floor with the plaintiff’s argument,” Asher writes on his blog. “It’s clear that she could not afford the type of professional legal representation she needed, because this case should have been shut down before it even reached a jury.”