What Goes ‘Around,’ Comes ‘Around’

By Jordana Horn

Published March 03, 2006, issue of March 03, 2006.
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Best-selling mystery writer Mary Higgins Clark may come to regret the title she gave to one of her latest novels.

In a recently filed lawsuit, Israeli writer Dalia Gal is claiming that Higgins Clark lifted key plot elements from a screenplay that Gal had written, using them in her 29th novel, “The Second Time Around.”

After reading Higgins Clark’s 2003 book, Gal contacted an attorney; she felt that there was more than a passing resemblance between her screenplay, “Immortalin,” and Higgins Clark’s novel.

According to Gal’s complaint, “the entire concept of ‘The Second Time Around’… was taken from [‘Immortalin’].” In both, the complaint argues, the plot centers on a female journalist’s investigation of two rival pharmaceutical companies and their quest to produce a miracle drug. In “Immortalin,” the drug at issue fights degenerative brain diseases; “The Second Time Around” focuses on a cancer vaccine.

The protagonists of both works are divorced female journalists living in New York City. Both reside in apartment buildings with broken elevators.

Gal contends that she wrote her screenplay in 1999. The screenplay was copyrighted and registered with the Writers Guild of America in July 2002; the script was sent out to film industry contacts between 1999 and 2002. During that time, Gal presented the screenplay to three separate writer’s conferences. Higgins Clark published “The Second Time Around” in 2003.

Gal seeks to prevent Higgins Clark from selling any more copies of the book, and wants all copies of it recalled from booksellers and destroyed. According to Nielsen BookScan, the hardcover edition of the novel has sold 285,000 copies.

Higgins Clark told the New York Daily News that “before this lawsuit was filed, I had never heard of Ms. Gal and certainly never saw her screenplay.” Her lawyers filed an answer to the complaint, denying all Gal’s allegations and stating that Gal does not even hold a valid copyright to “Immortalin.” “Even if there was any similarity between ‘Immortalin’ and ‘The Second Time Around,’” Higgins Clark’s answer to Gal’s complaint states, “such similarity consists solely of material that is not original to [Gal] and is therefore not protectible expression.” The similarities, she argues, are the product of “unprotected stock elements.”

Nonetheless, Judge Charles S. Haight Jr. of the Southern District of New York federal court has refused Higgins Clark’s lawyers’ request to dismiss the case. In the absence of a settlement — and it doesn’t look like either side has any plans to settle — the case will head to trial. And Gal is, apparently, ready for a fight.

“You shouldn’t mess with me or any Israeli,” she told the Daily News, from Tel Aviv. “We have to be tough, because life is tough here.”

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