Does the New Jeb Bush Book Infringe Hundreds of Copyrights?
by Bob Schwartz
A funny thing: None of the Bush politicians are lawyers. Though they do know some.
Which is one reason Jeb’s new book of his e-mails from being Florida governor (Reply All) is perplexing, along with the question of why he’s publishing it at all. He makes a big point of saying in it that in Florida, letters and e-mails to the governor are part of the public record, which is true. Anyone has the right to read them.
But…that doesn’t settle the question of whether the writers of those letters and e-mails still hold any copyright in them, such that if you (Jeb) decided to collect them all, and publish them in a book of your own that you sold, you might not be infringing their rights. Because the two things—being a public record and giving up the right not to be copied—are two separate things.
I’ll leave it to other lawyers and to journalists to pursue this matter, if it’s worth pursuing, because frankly, I don’t care that much. Maybe it’s just the spectacle of a campaign unraveling in so many ways that has piqued my interest a little. Or wondering, as historians may if they care to, how this all went so wrong.
Did he use a publisher or self publish? He might not know copyright but the publishers do. Im betting there were waivers.
This reply may end up being longer than the post. But you are always an astute reader and commenter, so you deserve a good answer.
First, I respect lawyers and lawyers who work in publishing, having been both. Great care is always (well, almost always) taken, and some areas are very clear. As it turns out, and I didn’t think about it before, this isn’t one of those. As I said, my research was cursory, but what I found is that there is an assumption, even among some lawyers, that being a public record trumps (sorry) copyright. Which it doesn’t necessarily.
You are right to point out that there was probably some due diligence, and there is an indication in the Author’s Note that there was. But as I mention in the post, there was a strong emphasis on the public record aspect, and this continues into this pertinent portion of that Author’s Note:
“If someone specifically asked that his or her e-mail be kept personal, we respected his or her request and did not use it in this book. (Again, Florida’s public records law does not protect the privacy of these e-mails.)”
So, yes, it appears that people were asked about the inclusion of their e-mails as a privacy matter. But this also says that this respecting of privacy was a gift, since technically, they would be free to publish them all as a public record.
Which brings us back to the beginning. As I noted, I didn’t do the sort of research into this fascinating question I might do if it mattered very much. And, yes, the lawyers may have had these folks waive everything, including both privacy rights and copyright. Lawyers love broad waivers, and aren’t as pleased having to settle for narrow ones.
Thanks for paying attention.
Thank you for taking the time to reply. I am always grateful for your knowledge.