Copyright or Wrong?


In Friday’s Jerusalem Post, Alan Dershowitz writes that Pulitzer Prize winner Alice Walker has refused to allow her book “The Color Purple” to be translated into Hebrew. Dershowitz describes Walker as as having a long history of supporting terrorism against Israel. He advocates that the correct legal and moral response for the publishers is to go ahead and publish without her permission and over her objection.

Dershowitz argues that Walker could then sue for copyright infringement and the courts would have to grapple with the issue of whether copyright, designed to encourage the promotion of literature, can be used to censor writings and prevent certain people from having access to certain literature.

He goes on to state that the laws of most Western countries prohibit discrimination based on race, religion and national origin. He argues that even if it is lawful for Walker to restrict Hebrew speakers from accessing her book, it is immoral and there is a case for civil disobedience, and the publisher should go ahead anyway, donating her royalties to civil rights organisations. Dershowitz is confident that reasonable courts would rule against Walker should she sue.

Whilst acknowledging that Dershowitz’ is a better lawyer than me, and whilst disagreeing with Alice Walker’s position regarding the Gaza blockade, I am not sure that I agree with Alan’s position on publishing the book against the author’s wishes.

The US copyright law is certainly designed to promote literature, but that does not mean that it forces authors to publish in all languages. The European copyright law, heavily influenced by the French position, ascribes to author’s and other creators moral rights.

One notes that Stanley Kubrick’s film a Clockwork Orange was banned by Kubrick from screening in the UK as it inspired violence, and the German State of Bavaria won an injunction to prevent Mein Kamf from being published in Czechoslovakia – See /czech-court-orders

I think freedom of speech and freedom to boycott are linked. If I can refrain from purchasing Roald Dahl books for my kids or from watching Vanessa Redgrave’s films due to Dahl and Redgrave’s anti-Zionism, why shouldn’t anti-Zionists be able to boycott Israel?

I remember my ex partner Jeremy ben-David expressing his indignation on hearing about the disruption of an Israeli play in London by pro-Palestinian demonstrators. I reminded him that as a student, he was proud of his activism on behalf of Soviet dissidents, where he and others stopped the Bolshoi Ballet in London. It is easy to be morally ambivalent regarding protests where one identifies with the protestors. I think one should try to examine the legitimacy of an act of activism separate from whether one agrees with the activists agenda.

To put it another way, it is easy to be liberal about liberals. 

I think that Ms Walker should be able to stop her book from being translated into Hebrew. Regardless of whether the book is available in Hebrew, I will refrain from reading it in English. 

I agree with William Patry’s analysis that if Microsoft made Office available at the same percentage of average salary in each country, it would be more beneficial than all of Bill Gates’ philanthropy. This does not mean, however, that I can run unlicensed software as an act of civil disobedience. Nor can I download films and music from illegal websites merely because I think that copyright law needs revamping.

That said, being a Marxist of the Groucho variety, I am not interested in joining a club that would have me as a member… 

Categories: Uncategorized

3 replies

  1. I find Ms. Walker’s stance rather amusing. My recollection is that her first husband was Jewish. Their daughter (whose name I’ve forgotten) wrote an autobiography in which she spoke warmly of the gatherings of her father’s family. She also came to Syracuse University a few years ago to speak under the auspices of the campus Hillel.

    • I am aware that Ms Walker’s ex-husband is Jewish. I am also aware of the phenomenon that the late Menachem Begin referred to as self-hating Jews.

      Personally, I don’t find boycotts amusing, but it doesn’t really hurt anyone except her. The expression “to cut one’s nose to spite one’s face” comes to mind. I think it is her right to boycott Israelis and it is our write not to buy her book. I am less enamoured with her presence on the flotilla aimed at breaking Israel’s blockade of Gaza. Hamas is a repressive, violent regime.

  2. I also disagree with Alan

    Taken to its logical extreme, Alan’s argument would insulate all copyright infringers from liability as they could argue it is free speech!
    Who decides which literature is so important that free speech trumps copyright

    If I own a literary work, I have a legal right to hide it and not let anyone read it. No one has a right to force me to let them read it or to force me to let them have a copy

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