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Judge blocks parody of "Gone With the Wind"

29 April 2001

ATLANTA, April 20 (Reuters) - The estate of Margaret Mitchell, the author of the Civil War epic 'Gone With the Wind,' won a victory on Friday when a federal judge blocked publication of a parody called 'The Wind Done Gone.'

U.S. District Judge Charles Pannell ruled in a 51-page decision that 'The Wind Done Gone,' written by Alice Randall, infringed on the copyright of Mitchell's 1936 novel. He granted a preliminary injunction against the book's publication, which had been set for June.

Mitchell's estate had sued Houghton Mifflin Co. publishers of 'The Wind Done Gone,' in federal district court in Atlanta, charging copyright infringement.

Houghton Mifflin said in a statement that it and Randall were disappointed in the ruling and that it planned to appeal.

'The Wind Done Gone' aims to counter Mitchell's work by depicting 19th century Southern plantation life from an African-American viewpoint. It is written from the point of view of a mixed-race plantation owner's daughter -- who might be a half sister of 'Gone With the Wind' heroine Scarlett O'Hara -- on a Georgia plantation after the Civil War.

Lawyers for Mitchell's estate said Randall committed 'wholesale theft of major characters' from 'Gone With the Wind,' which was made into a wildly popular 1939 film starring Vivian Leigh and Clark Gable.

Pannell, who heard from both sides in court on Wednesday, found that 'substantial similarities' existed between the two works and that those similarities involved copyrighted material.

'The new work's use of copyrighted materials from 'Gone With the Wind' goes well beyond that which is necessary to create a parody and, thus, makes excessive use of the original work,' Pannell said in his order.

Randall and her publisher had argued that her parody simply revisited the world of a famous book and did not violate copyright law.

'Today's ruling, if allowed to stand, will have a chilling effect on all those who seek to use free expression and parody to explode myths and provoke new thinking,' the Boston-based publisher said in its statement after the ruling.

'I wrote this parody to ridicule a book that has wounded generations of Americans,' Randall, who is black, said in the statement. 'I look forward to the day when readers will be able to judge my book for themselves.'

The original novel's depiction of black slaves, portrayed as a cheerful and supportive backdrop to the white protagonists' lives, is offensive to many African-Americans. Authors who have defended the parody include novelist Harper Lee, author of 'To Kill a Mockingbird,' and Nobel laureate Toni Morrison.