Lara Prescott has won the copyright case brought against her by Anna Pasternak in respect of Ms Pasternak’s book, Lara, with the Judge finding that copyright in Ms Pasternak’s book has not been infringed by Lara Prescott’s book, The Secrets We Kept (“TSWK”).
Ms Pasternak had claimed that seven chapters in Ms Prescott’s book infringed copyright in her book. This claim has failed in its entirety. This was not a verbatim copying claim, rather Ms Pasternak had claimed that a substantial part of the selection, structure and arrangement of facts and incidents in her book had been copied by Ms Prescott.
During the trial of these proceedings, Ms Pasternak admitted she had never read Ms Prescott’s book. The Judge described it as “extraordinary” that an author could claim infringement of copyright in their own book and bring these proceedings without actually having ever read the book which is alleged to infringe.
When using the same sources to refer to actual historical events, as Ms Pasternak and Ms Prescott were, the Judge warned authors against assuming copying simply because of a similarity or apparent similarity of events. Such similarity is inevitable when common historical sources are used.
In relation to a separate claim that concerned three sentences of a translation of a historical quote, the Judge ruled that copyright in the translation had been infringed. Although he deemed Ms Prescott’s use to be fair dealing and done in good faith, the translator had not been acknowledged. The translation was not Ms Pasternak’s own work and she acquired the copyright in it over a year after starting her claim. The Judge made clear that this part of the claim was minor and that it did not involve infringement of Ms Pasternak’s book. The acknowledgments at the back of Ms Prescott’s book will be amended accordingly.
The Judge held that:
- Lara and TSWK are fundamentally different works. The two books are written in very different styles, with different content and different arrangement.
- Ms Pasternak did not get anywhere near establishing that Ms Prescott had copied the selection and arrangement of events in the relevant chapters of Ms Pasternak’s book. That was so whether the claim was considered on a chapter-by-chapter basis or as a whole.
- Ms Prescott was an impressive, conscientious and honest witness, and the Judge commented on her professional and dedicated approach as a writer.
- The evidence demonstrated that Ms Prescott took no more from Lara than odd details, which was not surprising given Ms Prescott had accepted using it as a secondary source.
- In contrast, Ms Pasternak had herself directly copied verbatim from source materials in her book.
Lara Prescott said:
I’m very pleased to have been vindicated by the English High Court.
The Court found zero instances of infringement between my novel, The Secrets We Kept (TSWK), and Anna Pasternak’s book titled Lara: The Untold Love Story and the Inspiration for Doctor Zhivago. Throughout its judgment, which spans almost 150 pages, the Court forensically dissected and then dismantled Ms Pasternak’s claims that TSWK infringed the structure, selection and arrangement of her book, finding each and every time that no such infringement occurred.
Ms Pasternak might have been able to come to the same conclusions herself had she ever read my book. But as she admitted in court, she’s never even read The Secrets We Kept—not before first threatening to sue me, not before pitching her claims to the media, not before filing her lawsuit, and not even before going to trial.Above all else, this judgment affirms my artistic integrity throughout the years I spent researching, writing, and editing my novel.
Ms Pasternak launched this lengthy and costly litigation against me knowing my publisher and I would be defending my work. I’m extremely grateful to have had such a steadfast publisher in Penguin Random House and I’m pleased the Court saw through Ms Pasternak’s unfounded claims.
No one gains from unwarranted copyright litigation; it merely threatens to degrade the artistic freedoms we all cherish. I’m relieved that I can now get back to the things which matters most to me: my family and continuing to write my second novel.
Penguin Random House UK is delighted that Lara Prescott has succeeded today in defending the copyright infringement claim brought against her by Anna Pasternak in respect of her book.
For three years, Ms Prescott has publicly endured the most damaging and serious allegations that an author can face and has dealt with various legal threats from Ms Pasternak around the world. It is right that the judgment today fully vindicates her. Penguin Random House UK has a long and proud history of supporting its authors and we had no hesitation in standing behind Ms Prescott from the outset.
This ruling is a timely reminder that copyright law exists to protect authors’ rights and creative expression at the same time as enabling writers to draw from the historical record. It does not permit anyone to monopolise historical facts or sources.
Lara Prescott was represented by Ian Kirby and Aled Richards-Jones of Carpmaels & Ransford LLP, and Andrew Lykiardopoulos KC and Henry Edwards of 8 New Square.
- Click here to read or download the full judgment.