Similar Books About Plucky Black Boys Spark Copyright Suit Against Penguin Random House

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May 12, 2023

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(NEW YORK) – Betty Bynum, co-author of “I’m a Brilliant Little Black Boy!” and other illustrated children’s books, sued Penguin Random House for copyright infringement over the “striking similarities” that one of its recently published children’s books, “I Am Every Good Thing,” has to her work. 

The complaint, which was filed in the U. S. District Court of the Southern District of New York on Aug. 31, argues that “I’m a Brilliant Little Black Boy!” and “I Am Every Good Thing” have similarities in their physical display, theme, tone, mood, character, plot, and sequence of events, such that the Penguin Ransom House book “substantially imitated” Bynum’s book.

According to the plaintiff’s complaint, “I’m a Brilliant Little Black Boy!” is part of Bynum’s collection of illustrated children’s books “designed to inspire youths of a specified demographic and promote pride in children’s cultural identities.” According to the complaint, this theme is imitated by “I Am Every Good Thing,” along with the celebratory and earnest tone, which aims to “promote positive cultural representations of young black boys and do so effectively though text and illustration.”

According to Bynum, there are other more concrete similarities. Many of the panels showcase similar displays, the illustrations are visually similar showing the same sequence of events, and the book’s main characters share similar characteristics.

By way of example,  Bynum states that both books “feature a panel where the image of a young Black boy is leaping or flying from the left side of the page to the right with a makeshift towel for a cape, set against a bright blue sky.”

The lawsuit also says that both books feature illustrations where the protagonists on the left side of the page are peering through a magnifying telescope against a starry sky and that both feature pages in which the main characters are being raised on the shoulders of someone cheering them on, holding a basketball. Other examples given in the complaint are less concrete, such as the argument that the boys participate in the same activities (basketball, hip hop, and science experiments) and that the sequencing of events follow the same pattern.

The plaintiff is requesting an injunction enjoining the defendants from further infringing Bynum’s copyrights, along with damages and profits amounting to no less than $2 million.

When asked to comment on the case, Penguin Random House did not respond.

 

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