Rare Book Monthly

Articles - March - 2006 Issue

Profiting From Book Theft

Bars

From prison to wealth?


By Michael Stillman

Crime doesn't pay. Or does it? The book world found itself tossed into the seas of constitutional law when a Kentucky judge ruled that four convicted book thieves could profit from their misdeeds, at least in theory. While on the surface this sounds outrageous, the issues are far deeper and more complicated. This one strikes at the heart of free speech. If there is any one right people in the book world should most want to protect (besides the right not to have their books stolen), it is the right of free speech. This is the issue that played out in a Lexington courtroom a few weeks ago.

In December, four young men, former college students at that, pleaded guilty to stealing some rare books from the library of Transylvania University in Lexington. They received sentences that will require them to serve at least seven years in prison (parts of those sentences are currently under appeal). At the time of sentencing, District Court Judge Jennifer Coffman asked the parties to submit opinions on whether a statute designed to prevent criminals from profiting by selling the stories of their crime should be imposed on the defendants. While there was no indication any of the defendants planned such a book, they won't have much else to do during the next seven years. Might as well write a book.

This issue came to the forefront back in the 1970s when the New York State legislature passed the "Son of Sam" law. David Berkowitz, the son of Sam Berkowitz, had committed a few sensational murders of young lovers around New York's Central Park. The crime was such a sensation that lawmakers feared Berkowitz would make a fortune selling a book about his horrific crimes. I'm not sure what he would have spent it on; cigarettes maybe, but this guy didn't deserve even that. However, New York's "Son of Sam" law was struck down in a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1991. The Court found this law, at least in its particular form, a restraint on the right of free speech. There are many other such laws on the books of other jurisdictions, and to what extent and in what instances they are applicable, is still a major question. Free speech is a complex and controversial subject, and issues which arise on its borderlines, like pornography, flag burning, obscenities on tee shirts, and whistle blowing, are never easy to decide. Did Cindy Sheehan have a right to attend the President's State of the Union address wearing an anti-war message on her shirt? Did Karl Rove or Scooter Libby have the right to release a CIA agent's name? Do these book thieves have the right to sell their story? None of these are easy to answer.

Ultimately, Judge Coffman ruled that the court could not seize the money earned by these thieves should they sell their stories. This does not mean that they cannot be sued for the damages they caused. Librarian B.J. Gooch, who was tied up and zapped with a stun gun during the robbery, is suing and will be entitled to funds from any books, or any other sources these men may have, should she be successful. However, the state may not seize and hold funds in advance on behalf of victims or anyone else.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <center><b>Arader Galleries<br>April Auction<br>April 4, 2020</b>
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> MITCHELL, John (1711-1768). A Map of the British and French Dominions in North America. Copperplate engraving with original hand color. London, 1755. $250,000 to $350,000.
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> AUDUBON, John James (1785 - 1851). Brown Pelican (Standing), Plate 251. Aquatint engraving with original hand color. London, 1827-1838. $175,000 to $225,000.
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> AUDUBON, John James (1785 - 1851). Fish Hawk or Osprey, Plate 81. Aquatint engraving with original hand color. London: 1827-1838. $100,000 to $150,000.
    <center><b>Arader Galleries<br>April Auction<br>April 4, 2020</b>
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> GONZALES DE MENDOZA, Juan (1545 - 1618). <i>The Historie of the great and mightie kingdome of China…</i> London, 1588. $100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> VERBIEST, Ferdinand (1623-1688). [World Map] Kun-Yu Ch'uan-Tu. Engraved twelve sheet map with vertical sections joined to form six sheets. Korea, Seoul, c. 1860. $100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> SANGGI, Chong (1678-1752). Korean Atlas. Manuscript map on mulberry bark paper. C. 1750-1790. $100,000 to $150,000.
    <center><b>Arader Galleries<br>April Auction<br>April 4, 2020</b>
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> AUDUBON, John James (1785 - 1851). Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Plate 66. Aquatint engraving with original hand color. London, 1827-1838. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> AKERMAN, Anders (1721-1778). & AKREL, Frederik (1779-1868). Pair of Celestial and Terrestrial Globes. Stockholm, c. 1800. 23 inch diameter, each. $60,000 to $100,000.
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> BENNETT, Lieut. William Pyt (d. in action, 1916). AN IMPORTANT AND APPARENTLY UNPUBLISHED SERIES OF GELATIN SILVER PHOTOGRAPHS OF LHASA AND TIBET TAKEN DURING THE CELEBRATED YOUNGHUSBAND MISSION OF 1904. $60,000 to $80,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Abraham Lincoln, <i>Emancipation Proclamation by the President of the United States,</i> pamphlet, 1862. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Family papers of the distinguished Ruby-Jackson family, Portland, Maine, 1853-1961. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Family papers of the Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens & the persons who served him, 1866-1907. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Autograph book with inscriptions by orators Moses Roper & Peter Williams, 1821-54. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Archive of letters, postcards, and greeting cards sent by Romare Bearden, 1949-87. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b><br>E. Simms Campbell, <i>A Night-Club Map of Harlem,</i> in inaugural issue of Manhattan, 1933. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Papers of the comedian Nipsey Russell, including a letter from MLK, 1929-2000. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Early German-American anti-slavery broadside, <i>Sclaven-Handel,</i> Philadelphia, 1794. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Edmonia Lewis, prominent sculptor, carte-de-visite by Henry Rocher, c. 1866-71. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b><br><i>The Black Panther: Black Community News Service,</i> 44 issues, San Francisco, 1967-1971. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Withers, <i>I Am A Man, Sanitation Workers Strike,</i> silver print, 1968. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> <i>March For Freedom Now!,</i> poster for the 1960 Republican Convention. $4,000 to $6,000.

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