Spoof With Yiddish Faces Suit
January 15, 2005
By EDWARD WYATT
See Dick and Jane shvitz. Shvitz, Dick and Jane, shvitz.
Pearson Education, the publishing company that owns the
copyright to the Dick and Jane reading primers, has filed a
lawsuit against a division of Time Warner in Federal
District Court in Los Angeles claiming that the book
"Yiddish With Dick and Jane" violates Pearson's copyrights
and trademarks for the familiar characters.
The brisk-selling book examines adultery, drug use and
other tsuris that afflict Dick and Jane as adults. When it
was published in September by Little, Brown & Company, part
of the Time Warner Book Group, Pearson was farmisht and did
not take any action. After an Internet video promotion of
the book began attracting hundreds of thousands of viewers
and the book's sales topped 100,000, however, Pearson
decided that the fun was over.
The book, by Ellis Weiner and Barbara Davilman, with
illustrations by Gabi Payn, states on the front and back
covers, spine and copyright page that it is a parody. But
the lawsuit says the book "is not a parody, but is an
unprotected imitation" because it does not use the
copyrighted characters "for the purpose of social
Pearson says in its lawsuit that it has licensed the
characters before, as in the 1977 film "Fun With Dick and
Jane," with Jane Fonda and George Segal. A remake, with Jim
Carrey and Téa Leoni, is set to be released this summer.
The suit also names as a plaintiff Elizabeth Dubelman, who
was hired by Little, Brown to create the promotional video.
It has been shown on the publisher's Web site and her own,
In a statement, Little, Brown said the book was "entitled
to the full protection of the First Amendment and related
laws permitting expression of social commentary."
"This suit aims at the heart of creative expression," the
company said, "a position no publisher should take."
George H. Pike, director of the Barco Law Library and an
assistant professor of law at the University of Pittsburgh,
said that if the lawsuit went to trial, the outcome might
turn on whether the book is judged to be commenting on the
original Dick and Jane characters and books, in which case
it would be considered parody. If the characters were
simply being used to make a funny book, he said, that would
not be fair use.
Mr. Weiner and Ms. Davilman said in an interview that they
did not understand why Pearson sued. Before publication,
they said, Pearson asked for, and received, a prominent
disclaimer on the book saying it "has not been prepared,
approved or authorized by the creators or producers of the
'Dick and Jane' reading primers for children."
Ms. Davilman said she believed that the lawsuit was "a good
old shakedown for money."
A spokeswoman for Pearson said the company would not
comment on the lawsuit. Earlier this month, when Pearson
filed the suit, its lawyer, Stephen W. Feingold, wrote to
the plaintiffs offering to discuss a settlement and saying
that it had initially "decided not to sue over a title it
thought would not be commercially successful."
That decision apparently changed, Mr. Weiner said. He
added: "We're both fascinated and horrified at the same
time. We're on shpilkes."
Dick and Jane's Tsuris? Oy, Gevalt!
pronunciations from "Yiddish With Dick and Jane":
Shvitz (SHVITZ) - to sweat.
Tsuris (TSOOR-is) - troubles.
Farmisht (FAR-misht) - confused to the point of not knowing
what to do.
Oy gevalt (OY geh-VULT, or OY geh-VAHLT) - "oh, no!"
Shpilkes (SHPILL-kiss) - pins and needles.
Moral of this blog: Watch where you put your Dick. It could get you in trouble.