The Federal Court of Canada will consider a lawsuit filed by three filmmakers alleging that a Canadian author and her publisher plagiarized a family history presented in their documentary.
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Judy Maltz, an Israeli-American journalist, along with Barbara Bird and Richie Sherman, both associate professors of film at Penn State, are suing J.L. Witterick and Penguin Canada Books for allegedly stealing characters and the plot from their 2009 documentary, “No. 4 Street of Our Lady,” which investigated the World War II rescue of Maltz’s family by a Polish-Catholic woman in the Galician town of Sokal.
Hearings will be held this week in Ottawa.
The filmmakers are seeking a total of $3 million in restitution from Witterick and Penguin Canada Books, the destruction of “all printed copies, including translations, and all plates and electronic files” of Witterick’s best-selling 2013 novel, “My Mother’s Secret,” and an injunction on future sales of the book.
Their suit alleges that “My Mother’s Secret” is “almost identical” to the documentary, which Witterick viewed in November 2011 at a Holocaust Education Week event in Toronto. Witterick self-published her novel in March 2013, and it went on to appear on the Globe and Mail’s nonfiction best-seller list for several weeks before Penguin Canada Books, now part of Penguin Random House Canada, acquired its rights.
The complaint also alleges that Witterick employed the same “creative devices” used by the filmmakers “to design the narrative of [‘No. 4 Street of Our Lady’] and to illustrate the personality traits of the main characters.”
In April 2013, according to the complaint, Witterick apologized to Maltz for failing to credit the documentary and assured her that she would “definitely make sure to reference it in all my discussions.”
“I took facts that were true and developed the characters,” Witterick told the Globe and Mail in 2014. “My understanding is you can’t copyright facts. I don’t think there is a law against being inspired by something.”