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Forget About That JT Leroy Refund

Oct. 27 2008, Published 7:07 a.m. ET

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Now that Laura Albert has been found guilty of fraud for duping a film company with her JT LeRoy persona, the stage would seem to be set for another class action lawsuit like the one that forced Random House to offer refunds to people who bought James Frey's faux-memoir.

Not so fast, though. While the line between phony autobiography and phony autobiographical fiction is a blurry one, it's probably enough to ward off a class action, say legal experts.

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In the case of Frey, plaintiffs were able to plausibly assert that they wouldn't have bought A Million Little Pieces if it had been labeled fiction. That would be a tough argument for readers of Sarah to duplicate, says Lincoln Bandlow, an attorney who specializes in entertainment law.

"I don't know if there's a reasonable expectation by the public that all books are written by the named authors," he says. "I'd think it would be dubious if not meritless at this point to say it's some type of deception to the public to not give you the true identity of the named author of a work."


Thomas J. Maronick, a professor of marketing at Towson University, believes plaintiffs in a potential JT LeRoy suit would have trouble establishing "commonality," one of the requirements for a class action. "Everybody has to have suffered similar or common injury, and I'm not so sure you'd find that here," he explains. (Indeed, many readers could make the case that the author's biography is irrelevant to the quality of the story.) "I'm sure there's some lawyer out there who would take this kind of case," adds Maronick, "but I'm not sure how far it would go."



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