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What’s at Stake in Sneaky Chef vs. Seinfeld & Seinfeld?

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Remember how, shortly after the first hubbub over the similarities between Missy Chase Lapine‘s cookbook and Jessica Seinfeld‘s had started to died down, Jerry went on Letterman and accused Lapine of having a “wacko moment”? And I opined that little if any good could possibly come of that? Well, surprise, surprise, Lapine cites that specific incident as part of a “malicious, premeditated, and knowingly false and defamatory attack” in the federal lawsuit filed against the couple yesterday afternoon over “conduct that gives new meaning to the terms ‘arrogance’ and ‘greed.’” It turns out Jerry’s insult was a bit worse than I’d gleaned from the wire services, which didn’t mention the part where he said “she’s a three-name woman… If you read history, many of the three-name people do become assassins… Mark David Chapman. And you know, James Earl Ray. So that’s my concern.” (By the way, an attorney to whom I described the rough outline of the complaint described this statement as “mind-bogglingly stupid” from a legal standpoint.)

Lapine seeks unspecified “compensatory and punitive damages” from the Seinfelds over the following charges:

⇒Copyright and trademark infringement: Lapine accuses Jessica’s Deceptively Delicious of “brazenly plagiarising” The Sneaky Chef, which she submitted to HarperCollins twice, in the form of a 139-page proposal, in 2006, receiving rejections both times. Then, the complaint continues, she found out in early 2007 about “the Infringing Work,” and notified Running Press, who sent a cease-and-desist warning, to which Collins said Deceptively Delicious was “entirely original,” sticking to their publication plans after minor revisions.

Lapine then goes on to make an extensive argument for just how much Jessica infringed upon her book’s “origianl concept, expression, methodology, organization, structure, design, styling and look and feel,” not to mention her “philosophy, premise, approach, explanations, discussions, [and] reflections.” A lot of this may strike some observers as vague: The first specific accusations, for example, note that both books have introductions by doctors about how terrible obesity is and how clever the author is, and offer the respective author’s personal perspective on trying to get their kids to eat vegetables, and how they aren’t chefs, just moms trying to do the right thing—stuff that one could interpret as genre convention rather than one person imitiating another. (Likewise, in this vein, the distinction between straight-line borders around recipes as opposed to wavy-line borders.)

But then Lapine dials down to another level of granularity, where she and Seinfeld both mention “coercing [kids/them] to eat,” desiring “peace” at mealtimes, and how a processor can totally redeem “food that kids won’t go near” or “food my kids wouldn’t touch” with a little “loving deceit” or “loving deception.”

⇒Defamation/Slander: In addition to the Late Show appearance—during which Jerry claimed that Jessica had never even heard of The Sneaky Chef, let alone read it, which Lapine also maintains is false—he also went on E! and repeatedly referred to Lapine as a “nut job,” comparing her to “the guy I went to college with who claimed I stole the whole TV series from him.” Remarks like that, the complaint alleges, “have caused and are continuing to cause Lapine severe damage.”

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