Outing the pseudonym of J.K. Rowling has been a costly mistake for a lawyer employed at a law firm, called Russells. Chris Gossage was fined $1,600 for his part in the disaster.
The book, The Cuckoo’s Calling, was released during the summer of 2013, under the name Robert Galbraith. However, due to Gossage’s actions, the public learned that it was, none other than, Harry Potter writer J.K. Rowling. While the books flew off the shelves, the author was not impressed that her penname had been released.
Gossage spoke to a close friend, Judith Callegari, about the crime novel and the real name of the author. She instantly took to Twitter to share the information she had received. Russells – the law firm that Gossage works for – explained that the conversation was private and Gossage believed it was a secret Callegari would keep. Russells continued to defend their employee, pushing the blame onto the third party.
The Sunday Times picked up on the story after seeing the tweet. The British paper revealed all to the public, which Rowling was extremely angry about.
Rowling explained that she was angrier at the fact many of her oldest friends knew nothing about the penname. They learned of the information from someone Rowling had never even heard of, prior to the incident.
Despite his law firm standing by him, Goassage was fined for his part in outing the pseudonym of Rowling; a $1,600 (£1,000) fine was issued for breaching privacy rules. The Solicitor’s Regulation Authority (SRA) also wrote to the lawyer, rebuking his actions. The SRA oversees all actions performed by solicitors in the United Kingdom to ensure they act professionally.
The SRA ruled, on Dec. 30, that Gossage failed to meet the code of conduct after disclosing the confidential information to a third party. His actions have also led to a lack of trust from clients of Russells, as well as the public.
In July, Rowling decided to take Russells to court for the breach of trust. The High Court in London upheld her grievance and Russells was forced to pay her legal costs. They also paid damages for their actions. Instead of paying the funds straight to the author – upon Rowling’s request – they were donated to the Army Benevolent Fund, also referred to as The Soldier’s Charity.
On the bright side, for Rowling, her book did go from just 1,500 sales to hitting the book charts after the story.
The fine is a warning to other solicitors not to say anything that breaches a contract. Gossage was simply having a conversation with his wife’s friend – someone he trusted – but it turned out to be one of the biggest mistakes of his career. While Russells defends his actions, saying they were said in confidence, the incident has still led to a lack of trust from the public.
The decision to fine the lawyer, who outed Rowling’s pseudonym, was published on the SRA’s website – as happens with all decisions. It remains on the site for the public to find out the full information, as well as deter other lawyers from making the same mistake. The reason for the fine is also included within the posting.
By Alexandria Ingham