Northwestern sues ex-employee for copyright infringement on Leopold-Loeb book

Tyler Pager, Assistant Summer Editor

Northwestern has filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against a former employee whom the University commissioned to write a book about the 1924 Leopold and Loeb murder trial.

According to a lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court, the University accused Nina Barrett (Medill ’87) of refusing to return her unfinished manuscript and University research materials after she left NU in December 2013.

In 2009, Barrett was asked by NU to write a book about the two University of Chicago law students who killed a 14-year-old boy in Chicago. The University wanted her to write the book after she curated a successful exhibit on the trial. Barrett began working at NU in 2006 as a writer in the library’s public relations department.

The lawsuit says the contract for the book would be between Northwestern University Press and Northwestern University Library. In 2012, Barrett was awarded the Kaplan Institute’s Library Fellowship to complete the book.

However, Barrett left NU in December 2013 without returning any of the research materials, according to the suit. After she left, NU conducted a forensic examination of the laptop that Barrett was issued and found she transferred files related to the project to a USB drive. The suit alleges that Barrett transferred the files in order to prevent NU from accessing them.

In March, NU asked Barrett to return the Leopold and Loeb manuscript, including all drafts and research material. However, the suit says, she refused to do so.

Charles Valente, Barrett’s lawyer, denied his client has any liability.

“The University is trying to bully a previously published author who received the library’s Kaplan Fellowship and seize her work product in violation of her rights under the fellowship,” Valente said.

Dean of Libraries Sarah Pritchard declined to comment on the suit, but said the library and the fellowship follow NU’s policy on copyright.

In the lawsuit, the University said Barrett was working on the manuscript before and after her fellowship ended in August 2013.

Barrett recently opened Bookends & Beginnings at 1712 Sherman Ave., which was the former location of Bookman’s Alley.

University spokesman Bob Rowley, NU’s lawyer and Barrett declined to comment on the suit.

Clarification: This article has been updated to clarify that Barrett was already an NU employee when she was asked by the University to write the book in 2009.

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