Ex-Wife Allegedly Using Copyright To Take Down Husband's Suicide Note
from the copyfraud dept
Does a wife who may have driven a husband to suicide with the assistance of our corrupt family court system, then have a legal right to claim copyright — of his suicide note?It would be great to see both the takedown demand, and the judge's claim, but it is undeniable that the letter itself has been taken down in some places due to a copyright claim -- and the claim appears to have come from that same law firm. Some others are claiming they've personally been pressured into removing the letter. Others are also pointing out that the blog that that Chris Mackney maintained, detailing his custody battle, which was listed in his obituary from just a few months ago, called Good Men Did Nothing, is now gone as well. However, that might be due to a failure to continue to pay hosting bills.
According to attorney Rachelle E. Hill, of Bean, Kinney and Korman, and a judge, that is precisely the claim. Their lawyer has written the offices of A Voice for Men to demand that we remove a post from the forums containing the note.
Either way, the idea that a woman would be abusing copyright law to stifle her ex-husband's suicide note, seems like a clear case of censorship-via-copyright. The various sites reporting on this would appear to have a very strong fair use claim as well -- and at least a few (including the one linked above) are refusing to take down the letter. Furthermore, as this is getting more attention, more people appear to be posting variations on the letter getting it much more attention. In fact, a bunch are now reading the letter aloud on YouTube (making it even more transformative in any fair use analysis).
I have emailed Dina Mackney's lawyer to ask for any comment on the situation, but as of this posting, there has been no response. There are some claims in the letter which, if untrue, might possibly be defamatory (though they might also be considered normal hyperbole and opinion). However, even if some statements are defamatory, that has no bearing on the copyright question -- and, again, from all appearances, it is a copyright claim that has been made.
Other details may be relevant. While there are references to "ex-wife" it's not entirely clear when or if the divorce was finalized. It is possible that without a finalized divorce, the copyright in his letter (which obviously belongs to him) could possibly pass on to his heir, who could potentially be his wife (though, you'd imagine given the situation that he would have taken steps to avoid anything passing on to her).
While it still seems unlikely that she has a legitimate copyright claim on the letter, even if we give her and her lawyer the benefit of the doubt, the takedowns are almost certainly copyright misuse to censor speech. There is a strong fair use claim for the various sites publishing the letter. On most of the sites I've seen with it, the use was for reporting and criticism (classic fair use). If you even go on to do a four factor fair use test, it's almost certainly going to be fair use as well. The use is for reporting (transformative), in many (though not all) cases, only a portion of the letter was posted, there is no impact on the market because there is no market for the letter. And, of course, just the fact that it's a suicide note, would almost overwhelmingly point to fair use.
Furthermore, even if we assume through some convoluted legal process that Dina Mackney actually has some legitimate copyright claim over her ex-husband's suicide letter (much of which he spends angrily denouncing her, her family and her lawyers), it highlights the sheer ridiculousness of the way we now automatically grant a copyright on everything written. Chris Mackney probably never considered the consequences of a copyright on his suicide note, because, who the hell would? Given Mackney's previous efforts to discuss his situation, it's pretty clear that he intended the note to be shared widely, but it's fairly ridiculous to argue that someone writing a suicide note should also have the forethought to dump a Creative Commons license or dedicate it to the public domain before taking their own life.
In the end, from all of the evidence, this certainly appears to be a serious case of copyright abuse to silence speech in a rather disgusting manner. Though, as a result of that abuse, it certainly appears that the original content is getting a lot more attention. I think there's a name for that sort of thing.