The best-selling novel “The Art of Fielding” shares only a passing resemblance to an unpublished manuscript an aspiring novelist has alleged the hit book’s author, Chad Harbach, stole from him, a Manhattan federal judge has found, tossing a copyright infringement lawsuit.
In his order granting a motion to dismiss from Harbach’s legal team at Davis Wright Tremaine, led by partner Elizabeth McNamara, U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein of the Southern District of New York said there were some similarities between Harbach’s work and that of the plaintiff, Charles Green’s “Bucky’s 9th.”
Both are about a struggling Division III college baseball team, and each tracks the team’s progressions after the protagonist in each story joins the teams.
“But that’s the extent of the similarities,” Hellerstein wrote.
Green filed the suit against Harbach last September, claiming that his “Bucky’s” manuscript, which he’d been working on since the mid-1990s, bore “striking similarities” to “The Art of Fielding.” Green said he believed Harbach’s employment as a co-editor at a publishing house that “Bucky’s” was sent to could easily have put him in contact with the material in the mid-2000s.
Green asserted that while the two books shared certain common elements of sports-themed stories, Harbach’s work specifically mirrors the climactic scene found in “Bucky’s”: the baseball prodigy of both works is beaned in the head on a no-balls-and-two-strike count, with a runner on first, and the team down by a run in the first-ever baseball championship “for a perennial Division III college loser,” according to Green’s complaint.
But Hellerstein said there were more differences than similarities that proceeded the final scene. For example, the two works “are entirely different” in the “professional and personal development” of the two main characters, including how they arrived on their respective teams. More importantly, the judge found that Green’s argument that the overall plot, sequence and pace of the two works were virtually the same fail, representing “a strained attempt to impose structure where none is salient, evident, or important to the works as a whole.”
Even the climactic scene that Green “harps on,” in Hellerstein’s phrase, share, at best, “facial similarities.” None of them, Hellerstein said, represent either copyrightable abstract ideas or ideas, or, when set side-by-side, were “actually similar.” Pointing to the scene in question, the judge contrasted Green’s main character’s arrival at the plate—the team’s best player, who is intentionally beaned—with Harbach’s, who is far from the team’s best but who sacrifices himself by intentionally getting beaned. Even the scenes’ ends result in a plot divergence: Green’s fictional team loses, while Harbach’s wins.
“In short, when read in context, none of plaintiff’s allegations of substantial similarity hold up, the beaning scene included,” Hellerstein wrote.
Green, in an emailed statement, said he was greatly disappointed in the decision.
“I respectfully disagree with the judge’s conclusion that the two works are not substantially similar and his earlier decision not to allow me to amend my complaint,” he said. “Therefore, I intend to file an appeal with the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.”
Davis Wright Tremaine’s McNamara did not respond to a request for comment on Harbach’s behalf. Harbach’s publicist did not immediately reply to a similar request.