Inspiration or misappropriation?

Posted: July 19th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: In the News | Tags: | Comments Off on Inspiration or misappropriation?

Steven Galloway, the author of The Cellist of Sarajevo, asserts that although the title character of his novel was inspired by a real-life musician, he is under no obligation to secure the real person’s permission for depicting him–or a character very much like him–in a work of fiction. The author has used the same setting, the number of days the cellist plays, the same musical selection (Albinoni’s Adagio), and the moniker given to the cellist by members of the media who originally covered the story.

Vedran Smailovic is the cellist who received worldwide attention during the war in Bosnia for playing his cello amidst the rubble (and sniper fire) in Sarajevo in the wake of a deadly mortar attack. He claims that his story has been inappropriately used by Galloway, without permission, for Galloway’s–and his publisher’s–financial gain.

Complicating the matter, or perhaps making it clearer, is that Galloway’s Canadian publisher, Knopf Canada, used a photo of Smailovic on the cover of the book without Smailovic’s permission. (As of this writing, the cover is displayed on Knopf Canada’s web page for the book.)

Reports on the dispute on the CBC News website and via the Times (London) Online.

Although the tongue-in-cheek guideline for many authors and publishers has been that “it is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission,” asking for forgiveness may be a more costly proposition.