Copyright Law

Northwestern sues ex-employee, says author took book she was paid to write on infamous murder case


A former part-time employee and published author has been sued by Northwestern University for copyright infringement.

Northwestern contends in a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday that Nina Barrett was paid, while working on a library fellowship, to write about a notorious 1924 murder by University of Chicago students Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb and agreed in correspondence that the library would contract with the Northwestern University Press to publish it, reports the Chicago Tribune.

However, before Barrett left Northwestern to operate a bookstore in the Chicago suburb of Evanston, she transferred the manuscript and related materials to a USB drive and has refused to return them, the suit says.

Contacted by WLS, Barrett told the station she “would love to talk” about her thoughts on the case but didn’t feel she could do so while legal discussions are ongoing.

In addition to unspecified damages, the University is seeking reimbursement of its attorney’s fees.

The murder of 14-year-old Bobby Franks made international headlines, due in part to the wealth and intelligence of those involved, and Leopold and Loeb were defended by legendary attorney Clarence Darrow. Although both were convicted, Darrow was considered to have won a resounding trial victory by avoiding the imposition of the death penalty. Loeb was killed in prison by another inmate but Leopold was eventually paroled, more than three decades after the crime.

The case, considered one of the most-publicized trials of the 20th century, has already inspired multiple books and films, some fictional, including Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope.

Related coverage:

The Daily Northwestern: “New Evanston bookstore plans to be local ‘forum’”

Famous American Trials (University of Missouri-Kansas City): “Illinois v. Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb “

New York Times (1984): “Hitchcock’s ‘Rope’: A Stunt to Behold”

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