Saying it considered The Wind Done Gone a parody and thus protected under the terms of fair use, a three-judge panel seriously undermined the Mitchell estate's suit against Houghton Mifflin. The court's decision came as part of a written explanation of a ruling made this past spring that vacated the injunction imposed by the district court; the court, however, had not issued any formal opinions. The book went on to become a bestseller.

In their opinions, the judges wrote that SunTrust hadn't sufficiently substantiated its claim that the book, written by Alice Randall, was a sequel, and not a parody, of Mitchell's original work. The ruling could spell bad news for the Mitchell estate's prospects. Even if a trial judge rules in its favor, the parties would wind up facing the same three-judge panel that issued last week's opinion. At press time, the estate had not declared its intentions, and Mitchell estate lawyer Martin Garbus could not be reached for comment. In an interview last week, however, he said that an especially unfavorable ruling might dissuade his client from proceeding. The point of the suit, he said, was not to make money (all monetary damages would be donated to charity), but to deter others from similarly infringing. Given the suit's profile, the Mitchell estate may have partially achieved this.

Houghton chief Wendy Strothman said she feels "vindicated" by the ruling. The house is scheduled to bring out the paperback edition in April.