It is pay back time for disgraced memoirist James Frey and his publisher, Random House Inc.
Under a tentative legal settlement, readers who said they were defrauded by Frey's best seller, A Million Little Pieces, can claim refunds, an agreement called unprecedented - and understandable - by a leading publishing attorney. "I can confirm that we have an agreement in principle," David Drake, a spokesman for the Random House imprint Doubleday, said Thursday. "However, it requires court approval and may take several weeks and even months."
Allan Adler, vice president for legal and government affairs for the Association of American Publishers, noted that memoirs often cause allegations of defamation or invasion of privacy, but said he knew of no other case involving consumer fraud. He doubted whether the plaintiffs would have prevailed, but called the settlement sensible.
"I think when the lawsuits were first announced, most lawyers were somewhat sceptical whether there was a legal foundation," Adler said. "But it's not surprising that the folks involved in the publication of the book would seek to address consumer concerns and ultimately put an end to the issue."
Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild, said Thursday that he doubted the settlement would set a precedent for similar lawsuits against other books, although he acknowledged it was originally a "concern that passed through a lot of our minds. "But the case is so unusual, because this was such a popular book. And the settlement sounds quite reasonable - if there is fraud, you refund the money," said Aiken, whose organization represents thousands of published authors.
Readers who bought A Million Little Pieces on or before January 26, the day Frey and his publisher acknowledged that he had made up parts of the book, would be eligible for a refund of the full suggested retail price, regardless of discounts or special sales. Details about the settlement came from a person familiar with the deal who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because court approval was still pending. Under terms of the agreement, neither Frey nor the publisher have admitted any wrongdoing.
"We continue to believe these are very weak cases, but in the interest of moving on, a resolution on the terms agreed to became a viable option," Frey's lawyer, Derek Meyer, said Thursday. Lawsuits against Frey proliferated around the country in the weeks after the scandal emerged and U.S. District Court Judge Richard J. Holwell consolidated the cases in June. Lawyers for 10 of the 12 proposed representatives for the class action suits have accepted terms of the settlement, which call on Frey and Random House to pay out no more than a total of $2.35 million (€1.85 million). That sum covers the refund to consumers, plaintiffs' lawyers' fees and an unspecified donation to charity. Reports of an imminent settlement first appeared on www.radaronline.com, a pop culture Web site.
To receive refunds - $23.95 (€18.81) for the hardcover, $14.95 (€11.74) for paperback - consumers will have to submit a receipt or some other proof of purchase: for the hardcover, page 163; for the paperback, the front cover. They will also need to sign a sworn statement that they bought the book because they believed it was a memoir.
A Million Little Pieces was a sensation after television talk host Oprah Winfrey chose it for her book club last fall, but in early January the Web site The Smoking Gun revealed that Frey's memoir of addiction and recovery contained numerous fabrications. Winfrey initially defended Frey, but soon changed her mind and berated him in person on her TV show. Even so, the book remained on best seller lists for months.
Frey has also acknowledged extensive falsifications in a second memoir, My Friend Leonard, published by Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin Group USA, which reportedly dropped him earlier this year.