Rare Book Monthly

Articles - January - 2012 Issue

Is Mentioning a Book's Provenance a Legally Actionable Invasion of Privacy?

Abdouchtime

Oct. 10, 1960, Time described Ms. Abdouch as a “pretty, black-haired” Kennedy campaign secretary.

A truly bizarre lawsuit has been initiated in the state of Nebraska against a bookseller on the grounds of a violation of that state's Privacy Act. The bookseller is not from Nebraska, but is noted modern first edition specialist Ken Lopez of far-off Massachusetts. I will admit to being a privacy hawk. I do not like things that track my computer, or hidden cameras, companies that sell my name, or forms that demand personal information. I believe most questions can be answered “None of your business.” Still, this case strikes me as so trivial, so frivolous, so molehill to mountain, it is hard to fathom. Nevertheless, if the plaintiff prevails, this could have a chilling effect on the work of many booksellers.

Helen Abdouch, an 84-year-old resident of Omaha, Nebraska, sued Ken Lopez, personally and as a bookseller, for an unspecified sum that “exceeds $75,000” (such a claim must exceed $75,000 in order to sue in federal court as she did). Her claim states that Lopez exploited her name for commercial gain, a legal cause of action under Nebraska's 1979 Privacy Act.

This story begins half a century ago. In 1960, Ms. Abdouch was an executive secretary for John F. Kennedy's presidential campaign in Nebraska (Kennedy lost the state by almost 25% of the vote). In 1963, she received an inscribed copy of Richard Yates' first novel, Revolutionary Road. Yates had been a speechwriter for Robert Kennedy, who managed his brother's campaign, thus explaining a connection between Yates and Abdouch. Yates inscribed the book, “For Helen Abdouch – with admiration and best wishes, Dick Yates 8/19/63.”

The lawsuit does not tell us what happened to the book between the years 1963 and sometime during the first decade of the 21st century. That was when Lopez purchased the book, reportedly from someone in Atlanta. He then posted the book online and sold it three years ago. However, Lopez was evidently guilty of one misdeed, one that we suspect many other booksellers have committed. He forgot to take the listing down. Three years later, it was still posted.

When Lopez posted the book, he wrote up a description of his copy. He noted the inscription, and then did a little internet research on who Ms. Abdouch was. There wasn't much information available, but he did find her name briefly mentioned as executive secretary to John Kennedy's campaign in a 1960 Time Magazine article about Robert Kennedy. In his book description, Lopez said that, considering the campaign connections of Abdouch and Yates, it was reasonable to think this was an author's presentation copy to her. According to the lawsuit, Lopez admitted that he made no further effort to determine if Ms. Abdouch was still alive, assuming, evidently based on the great number of years intervening, and lack of other information online about her, that she had died.

Through the three years of posting, Ms. Abdouch was unaware of the book listing. She doesn't have a computer. However, on May 25, 2011, she was informed of it by a friend. Why what sounds like such a trivial thing, at least to this writer, set off Ms. Abdouch so is not clear. According to her complaint, Ms. Abdouch “has suffered the harm of invasion of privacy by the use of her name and identity for commercial purposes without her consent.” She then claims that she has suffered $10,000 worth of actual damages, along with unspecified “compensatory damages” and costs that must equal at least $65,000 for her to sue in federal court, along with “distress” over the invasion of her privacy and use of her identity for commercial purposes without consent.

It is unclear as to whether Ms. Abdouch is more upset about her privacy being violated, or from someone else making money off her name. The invasion of privacy, to me, seems trivial. Though Mr. Lopez has a fine website, I suspect the number of people who visit it, as a percentage of the population, is miniscule. I would bet if you grabbed 1,000 random people off the streets of Omaha and asked how Lopez's listing affected their opinion of Ms. Abdouch, not a one would have any idea what you were talking about. She never would have known of the listing but for a friend running across it and telling her. If her concern is more that Mr. Lopez is making money off her name, one suspects that had he just said “inscribed by the author to a (unnamed) Kennedy campaign worker,” it would have sold just as quickly and for just as much. While I do not know how much Mr. Lopez made on the sale, I'm going to go out on a limb and say it was less than the $75,000 Ms. Abdouch seeks. This is a desirable book, and could have brought a few thousand dollars, but not seventy-five.

This lawsuit is troubling on a couple of levels. First, as a strictly legal, as opposed to bookselling proposition, it is hard not to notice the burdens it places on Mr. Lopez to defend it. It will not be cheap for him to defend a lawsuit 1,500 miles away from his home. That could easily be thousands of dollars. This looks ripe for a case where a defendant agrees to a settlement of a few thousand dollars, regardless of the merits of the case, as this is cheaper than defending it. Just as Ms. Abdouch has asked to be paid “the costs of this action” if she prevails, one hopes the court will make her, or her lawyer, whoever was responsible for bringing this claim, compensate Mr. Lopez his costs if he prevails. This just smacks of abuse of the legal system.


Posted On: 2012-01-01 00:00
User Name: Genet

In France, where I live, cutting out the name of the dedicatee from an inscription or ripping out the page altogether are depressingly common practi


Posted On: 2012-01-02 00:00
User Name: violinist01

This is so grotesque it defies words.


Rare Book Monthly

  • <center><b>Bonhams<br>Fine Books and Manuscripts<br>New York | June 11, 2019</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 11:</b> Faulkner, William. <i>The Sound and the Fury.</i> New York: Jonathan Cape, [1929]. First edition in dust jacket. $4,000 to $6,000
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 11:</b> Trautz-Bauzonnet bindery. Shakespeare, William. Sonnets. 1901. 2 volumes. Printed on vellum and illuminated by Ross Turner. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 11:</b> Thompson, Kay. <i>Eloise at Christmastime.</i> New York: Random House, [1958]. First edition. In custom binding by Asprey. $800 to $1,200
    <center><b>Bonhams<br>Fine Books and Manuscripts<br>New York | June 11, 2019</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 11:</b> Beardsley, Aubrey. <i>The Birth, Life, and Acts of King Arthur.</i> 1893-94. 2 volumes. Contemporary painted vellum gilt by Chivers. $2,000 to $3,000
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 11:</b> Assisi, St. Francis. <i>The Canticle of Brother Sun.</i> Illuminated on vellum, for the Grolier Society. $6,000 to $9,000
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 11:</b> Taylor, Deems. <i>Walt Disney’s Fantasia.</i> New York: 1940. In custom binding by Asprey. $2,000 to $3,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b> William Shakespeare, <i>Shakespeare’s Sonnets, In Two Parts,</i> limited Saint Dunstan edition, Oxford University Press, 1901. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b> Benjamin Graham & David L. Dodd, <i>Security Analysis,</i> first edition, inscribed by Graham to a Wall Street trader, NY, 1934. $18,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b><br>Ian Fleming, <i>Goldfinger,</i> first edition, inscribed to Sir Henry Cotton, MBE, London, 1959. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b><br>Ian Fleming, <i>The Man with the Golden Gun,</i> first edition, first state with the dust jacket, London, 1965. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b> Virginia Woolf, <i>The Voyage Out,</i> first American edition of the author’s first book, in rare dust jacket, NY, 1920. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b> Gabriel García Márquez, <i>Cien años de soledad,</i> Buenos Aires, 1967. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b> Mary Mapes Dodge, <i>Along the Way,</i> first edition, author’s copy, annotated in her hand, NY, 1879. $1,800 to $2,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b> <i>The Dial: A Monthly Magazine for Literature, Philosophy and Religion,</i> first edition, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s copy, Cincinnati, 1860. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b> Gaston Leroux, <i>The Phantom of the Opera,</i> first American edition, first printing, New York, 1911. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b> Walt Whitman, <i>Leaves of Grass,</i> signed, Camden, 1876. $4,000 to $6,000.
  • <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers: Fine Books and Manuscripts. May 1, 2019</b>
    <b>Leslie Hindman, May 1:</b> WRIGHT, Wilbur -- WRIGHT, Orville. Photograph signed. 128 x 177 mm, black and white. Taken for Collier's Weekly by James H. ("Jimmy") Hare. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman, May 1:</b> WRIGHT, Wilbur -- WRIGHT, Orville. Typed document signed, New York, NY, 18 November 1909. A founding document in the history of aviation: the certificate of incorporation for the Wright Company. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman, May 1:</b> LINCOLN, Mary Todd. Personal monogrammed handkerchief. Square linen handkerchief, silk border, "ML" monogram to one corner, 11 1/8 x 11 1/4 in. $1,000 to $1,500
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers: Fine Books and Manuscripts. May 1, 2019</b>
    <b>Leslie Hindman, May 1:</b> TRUMAN, Harry S. Broadside signed, as President, 8 May 1945. Truman's V-E Day proclamation. $4,000 to $6,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman, May 1:</b> WASHINGTON, Martha Dandridge Custis, First Lady. Autograph free frank signed on integral cover sheet. One of four surviving free franks by Martha Washington. $30,000 to $40,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman, May 1:</b> DALI, Salvador, illustrator. -- DODGSON, Charles Lutwidge. <i>Alice in Wonderland.</i> New York: W.U.C.U.A. and Maecenas Press - Random House, 1969. Limited edition, signed by Dali. $3,000 to $4,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers: Fine Books and Manuscripts. May 1, 2019</b>
    <b>Leslie Hindman, May 1:</b> CHURCHILL, Winston Spencer. <i>Lord Randolph Churchill.</i> London: Macmillan and Co., 1906. First edition, presentation copy to his valet, inscribed. $5,000 to $7,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman, May 1:</b> DICKENS, Charles. <i>Great Expectations.</i> London: Chapman and Hall, 1861. First edition, 3 vols. Vol. I second issue, vol. II first issue, vol. III third issue. $4,000 to $6,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman, May 1:</b> DODGSON, Charles Lutwidge ("Lewis Carroll"). <i>Sylvie and Bruno. -Sylvie and Bruno Concluded.</i> London: Macmillan, 1889, 1893. First editions, inscribed presentation copies. 2 works in 2 vols. $1,000 to $1,500
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers: Fine Books and Manuscripts. May 1, 2019</b>
    <b>Leslie Hindman, May 1:</b> KEULEN, Gerard van. <i>Nieuwe Wassende Graaden Paskaart Vertoonende alle de Bekende Zeekusten en…</i> [Amsterdam, ca 1720]. Important 18th century world map depicting California as an island. $6,000 to $8,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman, May 1:</b> ALHAZEN [Abu 'Ali al-Hasan ibn al-Hasan ibn al-Haytham]. <i>Opticae thesaurus.</i> Translated from Arabic into Latin. First edition of Alhazen’s classic work on optics and vision. $18,000 to $25,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman, May 1:</b> GALILEI, Galileo. <i>Systema cosmicum... in quo quatuor dialogis…</i> Translated from Italian by Matthias Bernegger. Strasbourg: D. Hauttius for the Elzevirs [at Leiden], 1635. First Latin edition. $6,000 to $8,000

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions