Yankees Claiming Copyright To Block Memoir Involving 60 Year Old Letters From A Young George Steinbrenner
from the speech-and-free-speech dept
Anyway, a writer contacted Schriner, and suggested perhaps putting together a memoir about her time with the young George Steinbrenner, which would use the letters, and weave them into a more complete narrative. The Schriner family, politely asked the Yankees their feelings on the matter, and apparently received a sternly worded letter, saying that publishing the letters:
"will cause untold embarrassment and damages to the Steinbrenner family and the Steinbrenner's business interests."Further comments on the matter in the article, suggest that the Yankees made it clear that the family still owns the copyright on the letters (correct) and that this could be the method through which they would block any publication. It sounds as if the family has given up on the plans to do the book, which really is a shame, but it certainly seems like there would be a pretty strong fair use claim here as well. Beyond the questions about how reminiscence of a friendship from 60 years ago might "damage the family business interests," it's worth pointing out that copyright is not supposed to be used to block "damaging the family business interests." Being embarrassed by what's in a document is not something that takes away fair use rights.
The article quotes an NYU law professor, who correctly points out that the copyright on the document and physical ownership are different, but I'm not sure it's accurate to state, absolutely that "she cannot publish the letters." I think a strong case could be made for fair use in publishing a memoir that includes those letters. It's not as if the Steinbrenner family has some sort of commercial interest in the letters. Instead, however, we get yet another case where just the threat of a copyright claim -- even one that doesn't seem to have much legal basis -- is holding back speech.