Famous cellist claims story stolen by Canadian author

A man once known worldwide as the Cellist of Sarajevo wants compensation from a Vancouver author who he said has used his reputation in a bestselling novel without asking.

A man once known worldwide as the Cellist of Sarajevo wants compensation from a Vancouver author who he said has used his reputation in a bestselling novel without asking.

The Cellist of Sarajevo is inspired, in part, by the tale of cellist Vedran Smailovic, a musician made famous during the Bosnian conflict in 1992. 

With a stool and his cello, Smailovic once played on top of the rubble from a deadly mortar attack in Sarajevo. In plain view of snipers, he played for 22 days straight — one day for each person killed during the mortar attack.

So does the character in Steven Galloway's book, published this year. It's a war tale woven around three characters in Sarajevo and their reaction to a cellist character inspired by Smailovic, whose story has travelled around the globe.

"The cellist in my book is based on a real character. He doesn't ever speak in the book. I was kind of careful not to put words, I don't want to put words in his mouth," Galloway told CBC News Thursday.

In interviews with other media outlets, Galloway said the cellist in his novel is only a character in the first five pages of the book, which focuses more on the other three characters.

He added that most of the information he found out about Smailovic was readily available on the internet.

Smailovic, however, said he is furious the author never contacted him to seek his permission to be included in the novel, a bestseller in Canada and Britain.

'How can somebody steal your work?'

"It's not fair, it's not on. It's unbelievable," said the musician, who still composes and records music from a small village south of Belfast, in Northern Ireland.

"How can somebody steal your work, my, my sadness, my, my tragedy?"

Smailovic said that if people are making money off tales from his past, he is entitled to a share of it.

"They put my picture, my face, on the front, on the cover with no permission. They don't ask me — they use my name advertising their product. I don't care about fiction, I care about reality."

Galloway, who interviewed more than 25 people for the book and offered compensation to none of them, said Smailovic's story is fair game because so much has already been written about him.

"[I don't know] for what I would be compensating. I mean, he performed a public act and I mentioned it?" said Galloway, who sent Smailovic an autographed copy of the novel after it was released.

The use of a photo featuring Smailovic on the cover of the novel, however, may be a grey area, according to entertainment lawyer David Zitzerman.

He questioned whether the use of Smailovic's photo and name in the promotion of the book would allow the musician to make a claim for compensation along the lines of a celebrity whose image or likeness is being used without permission.