January 22, 2005 10:22 AM   Subscribe

USA Today and others are reporting that Doubleday will be publishing "[t]he original thoughts of Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders" in a book to be sold in the U.S. (and presumably abroad). From the CNN article, Doubleday plans on donating proceeds from the sale to charity, and openly describes plans to flaunt U.S. law by NOT paying royalties for the use of source materials.

What are the ramifications for a publishing company (which relies on royalty payments and preservation of copyright for self-survival) to ignore their own rules (and U.S. law) when it suits them? Should we expect anyone in the U.S. to care about the royalty payments to these two individuals? Furthermore, could Doubleday's stance affect any of the other copyright infringement actions currently being taken by U.S. organizations?
posted by aberrant (32 comments total)
How would they pay? Drop the money in non-sequential notes off the side of a bridge in Afghanistan?

... are there any bridges left in Afghanistan?
posted by NinjaPirate at 10:32 AM on January 22, 2005

Aren't there provisions in law when the presumed copyright holder is impossible to reach?

Also, it doesn't seem like Bin Laden et al have been very keen to make money off of their work in the past, you don't see them charging Al Jazeera for posting videos etc.
posted by cell divide at 10:35 AM on January 22, 2005

This will all be covered by the "do as we say, not as we do" amendment that Bush has been working on.
posted by idontlikewords at 10:35 AM on January 22, 2005

The article in Slate about this is pretty much says if bin Laden wanted to sue in US court he'd have a case, but I really don't think he'd roll into court given his enemy number one status. From a criminal case perspective, I think Doubleday does have a leg to stand on.

I am glad to know that this book is being published as it might shed some light on al Qaeda's motivation. Know thy enemy and all of that.

I would love if Bush would read it since it probably says nothing about "hating our freedom".

As to your question aberrant... no, I don't think this will matter one bit to the current music/movie copyright cases. They are civil actions and the copyright holders aren't afraid to use the courts to get damages.
posted by birdherder at 10:41 AM on January 22, 2005

On one hand, it's pretty tough to fight an enemy we don't understand.

On the other hand, is it dangerous to widely disseminate the ideals and philosophy of a terrorist organization?

I mean the copyright angle is interesting, but since Al Qaeda is a terrorist organization, it would be illegal for the publisher to pay them anything under American anti-terror statutes.
posted by ilsa at 10:41 AM on January 22, 2005

One parallel: Mein Kampf, whose sale is banned in the Netherlands, and whose copying and printing is banned in Germany. Not sure about the copyright issue (the copyright is held by Bavaria).
posted by googly at 10:45 AM on January 22, 2005

when it becomes available i think i will pay cash for it i would prefer that that particular sale not appear on my credit/debit card
posted by halekon at 10:55 AM on January 22, 2005

Birdherder, thanks for the Slate link -- I had missed that one, and it's right on point.
posted by aberrant at 11:00 AM on January 22, 2005

Hmmm.... wonder if this will be a "red flag" when the FBI peruses the records of a bookstore or library.
posted by breath at 11:07 AM on January 22, 2005

Your question: I don't know. What do you think?
posted by Postroad at 11:09 AM on January 22, 2005

Not that it's all that hard to get a hold of what passes for his thinking, if you really want it. Here's a foretaste for those who are interested.

PS- "Flout", not "flaunt". Sorry that's a bugaboo with me.
posted by IndigoJones at 11:13 AM on January 22, 2005

Well, first of all it's important to note that copyright infringement is a civil matter, not a criminal matter. Doubleday will be infringing Bin Ladin's copyrights, but it will be up to Bin Ladin to sue in order to get them to stop.

In adition, he'll need to register those comments at the Library of congress in order to get any kind of monitary reimbursement.

So it's not like this is super-illegal. Especialy since Sharia law dosn't have anything on copyright. In fact, bin-ladin would probably be all for this printing.
posted by delmoi at 11:29 AM on January 22, 2005

Wouldn't paying the original copyright holders get them in hot water for contributing money to terrorists (18 U.S.C. ยง 2339B(a)(1))?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:34 AM on January 22, 2005

I suspect that Doubleday will end up putting the proceeds in a trust for the benefit of civil plaintiffs against OBL and al-Quaeda. Survivors of everyone who died or was injured in the African embassy bombings or on 9/11 would have a wrongful death claim. (The 9/11 settlements only required waiver of claims against U.S. and allied defendants.)
posted by MattD at 12:14 PM on January 22, 2005

What delmoi said. Since 1976, copyright is created in America by means of simply producing the work. If you actually want to sue someone for infringment, or in Bin Laden's case you're not an American citizen who wants to file suit against an American, you would have to file an application in the copyright office.

Doubleday is "flaunting" copyright law by means of knowing for a fact that they will never be sued. Their financial issue is that bin Laden likewise never signed an exclusive deal with Doubleday... I'm not 100% sure, but with a copyright going unenforced technically any other company can publish these texts as well.

MattD: in some bizarre way, I would find the hypocrisy of such a situation ironic. Doubleday violating a foreigner's copyright and ignoring American courts to make money for Americans to sue foreigners in American courts. It's amazing how well money works as white-out.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 12:16 PM on January 22, 2005

I remember a music Professor I used to know who told me that music was frequently spread around Europe during wartime because intellectual property concerns were forgotten. You couldn't really pay royalties to people you were obligated to kill, or at least imprison, on sight. It seems sort of crass to suggest that international war is a good way to stimulate art, but it already stimulates industry and science, so maybe it isn't that ridiculous. (I'm not saying bin Laden is the artistic equivalent of Mozart, but it is sort of interesting).

I wish I could find some links for backing up what that guy said, he was a little crazy, but all my searches for "war" or "wartime" coupled with "Intellectual Property" or "Copyright" spat out things in the vein of "____ declares war on copyright."

Does anybody know of any great works of art that became famous primarily because a large conquering group came in and made off with them?
posted by SomeOneElse at 12:30 PM on January 22, 2005

If you take a look at the articles discussing this situation, they compare Dday publishing the Al Qaeda material to previous publications of "Mein Kampf"--whether or not they are analogous remains to be seen. Typically, publishers of works such as "Mein Kampf" have donated proceeds to organizations devoted to working against the negative ideologies.

This has nothing to do with donating proceeds to Bin Laden et. al, but with the publishing tradition--not law--of turning these publications into acts of charity.

Of course, plenty of ideologically negative texts have been published without the proceeds going to charity--particularly contemporary works. For instance, many people would find works like the "Left Behind" series or the "Koran" or the "Bible" offensive. What about military texts by neoconservatives? Or the writings of Che Guevara? Do publishers have to siphon their profits from everything that might cause offense into charitable foundations? Of course not. Dday is doing nothing wrong. Or new. It's only a news story because Bin Laden is mentioned.
posted by schambers at 1:14 PM on January 22, 2005

Agreed that the issue is framed wrongly in the FPP. It's a civil, not criminal matter, and it's "flaunting" only to the extent that the entire basis of US civil law is that an action can only be sustained if there is a plaintiff with standing to sue.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 2:00 PM on January 22, 2005

Okay, one more time, and sorry to get off point, but words do matter.

You flaunt things that are your own- diamonds, a trophy wife, your ability to play piano.

You flout things that are everyone's - the law, convention, social mores.

For more, see this, this, or this.

In this case, the issue of copyright strikes me as a matter of de minimis. If OBL wants to enforce his rights, he's welcome to do so. I doubt anyone else, least of all the government, would care.

Does copyright law cover unauthorized translation? I would assume so, but law makers have been known to miss things in the pass.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:21 PM on January 22, 2005

Well, first of all it's important to note that copyright infringement is a civil matter, not a criminal matter. Doubleday will be infringing Bin Ladin's copyrights, but it will be up to Bin Ladin to sue in order to get them to stop.

Yup. This is why various people felt free to publish the Unibomber manifesto back before Kazynski was arrested: you have to come forward to enforce your copyright.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 6:39 PM on January 22, 2005

Does anybody know of any great works of art that became famous primarily because a large conquering group came in and made off with them?

Does every song written by black people prior to the 1950's count? Remember, schoolchildren: that nice Elvis man invented Rock and Roll!
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:00 PM on January 22, 2005

Preemptive Publishing?!
posted by homodigitalis at 7:29 PM on January 22, 2005

On the other hand, is it dangerous to widely disseminate the ideals and philosophy of a terrorist organization?

No. No, it isn't. That such a question can be asked is in itself an answer to such a question.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:08 PM on January 22, 2005

Well, Stavros, that's why I asked a question instead of made a statement.
posted by ilsa at 10:02 PM on January 22, 2005

Dday is doing nothing wrong.

Other than violating OBL's intellectual property rights. While I doubt that very many people would have sympathy with him, that's surely not the point. Shouldn't the protection of the law apply to everyone? It certainly seems to me that it's not Doubleday's place to decide that they have the right to publish this material (their claim that fair use applies here is absurd).

(As for Mein Kampf, wouldn't that be out of copyright by now anyway? Life + 50 years means the copyright expired in 1995).
posted by Infinite Jest at 10:23 PM on January 22, 2005

Assuming, for whatever stupid reason, Bin Laden wants to collect on the royalties on this. Could that mean that buying this book would actually mean you were contributing to terrorists?

Five bucks says that if this goes to print, the religious right tries to block it from publication.
posted by bryanzera at 11:23 PM on January 22, 2005

violating OBL's intellectual property rights

I realize this is copyright and not patents, but I think every fucking nutjob in the history of the species with an invisible sky buddy and bloody hands can claim some prior art here.
posted by trondant at 12:35 AM on January 23, 2005

Well, first of all it's important to note that copyright infringement is a civil matter, not a criminal matter.

not entirely true. it depends on the nature of the infringement. title 17 U.S.C. section 506 says:

a) Criminal Offenses, Any person who infringes a copyright willfully either -
(1) for purposes of commercial advantage or private financial gain, or
(2) by the reproduction or distribution, including by electronic means, during any 180-day period, of 1 or more copies or phonorecords of 1 or more copyrighted works, which have a total retail value of more than $1,000, shall be punished as provided under section 2319 of title 18, United States Code. (TITLE 18 - CRIMES AND CRIMINAL PROCEDURE)

For purposes of this subsection, evidence of reproduction or distribution of a copyrighted work, by itself, shall not be sufficient to establish willful infringement.

$1000 over 6 months and you'll be dealing with these people. Just like these guys did:

The U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) bagged its first-ever criminal convictions for peer-to-peer (P2P) copyright theft Tuesday when two men arrested in last summer's Operation Digital Gridlock pleaded guilty. William R. Towbridge, 50, of Johnson City, N.Y., and Michael Chicoine, 47, of San Antonio each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit felony criminal copyright infringement. The maximum penalties for a first-time offender are five years in prison, a fine of $250,000 and restitution to the victims. In addition, Towbridge and Chicoine will be required to destroy all infringing copies and all equipment used to make the infringing copies. Sentencing is scheduled for April 29.
posted by three blind mice at 1:11 AM on January 23, 2005

idontlikewords wrote:
This will all be covered by the "do as we say, not as we do" amendment that Bush has been working on.

That would be the American Safety & Security Hypocrisy Act on Terrorism, or ASSHAT. In honor of our departing AG.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:31 AM on January 23, 2005

three blind mice, the important thing about the criminal aspect of copyright law is that the accused must "willfully" violate the copyright. In the US, this is generally interpreted as only occuring if the copyright has been registered, I think. While copyright exists from the moment of creation in the US now (since it finally got around to signing the Berne Convention a few years ago), creators can't sue for punitive damages, and it's not criminal, unless the copyright has been registered.
posted by djfiander at 5:14 AM on January 23, 2005

I'm less concerned by the letter than the spirit of the thing. Patriotism is a fine flag under which to commit minor offences, and this may be an academic offence because the offended party is hated by the public and unable to respond in a court without jeopardy. But, what happens when another publisher does the same thing to someone towards whom public opinion leans? Why is it OK to bend the law simply because the other party is despised?

Normally U.S. royalties for a foreign book would accrue not only to the translator but to the authors of the source material -- in this case bin Laden and al-Zawahiri.

Herz said that "technically they could sue us," but said Doubleday believed there was such an historic need to publish their writings in the United States that "the law affords us an exceptionally broad privilege of fair use."

It amazes me that Doubleday, of all publishers, ran to the "fair use" defense to indicate that they can bend the law. Doubleday has had recent troubles involving the manipulation of fair use with copyright owners, and to see this in print is irritating. If there's such a "historical need", why not instead publish translations of the two source works from which Ibrahaim is working, with commentary, instead of gutting them and creating a third work?
posted by FormlessOne at 7:32 AM on January 23, 2005

It seems only fair to publish this under a creative commons license.

I wonder how they're going to manage the loss in meaning. Arabic to English translations aren't always the greatest, often missing certain aspects of a piece or not correctly portraying the appropriate tone.
posted by nalihasan at 12:38 PM on January 26, 2005

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