For the half-year to 30 June 2014, the IPKat's regular team is supplemented by contributions from guest bloggers Alberto Bellan, Darren Meale and Nadia Zegze.

Two of our regular Kats are currently on blogging sabbaticals. They are David Brophy and Catherine Lee.

Monday, 27 October 2003

IT’S THE STORY OF YOUR LIFE -- BUT YOU CAN’T HAVE IT BACK

The IPKat’s previous blog was the first time we featured the British prison authorities, whom the House of Lords held not liable for an alleged invasion of prison visitors’ privacy. Well, would you believe it, they’re back on the blog again, this time having been accused by British serial killer Dennis Nilsen of refusing to return him the unfinished manuscript of his autobiography. Nilsen, now 57, sent the manuscript to his former lawyers in 1996 but, when his current lawyers tried returning it to him last year, the prison authorities stepped in and told him he couldn’t have it on the ground that prisoners shouldn’t have “a public platform to glory in their crimes”.

Nilsen, who admitted killing and dismembering 15 young men, mainly homeless homosexuals, was jailed for life in 1983. He was told he would never be released, unlike his autobiography which may well be coming out sooner than the prison authorities think. This is because, according to Alison Foster QC who represented him in court, several copies of the manuscript are in the hands of Nilsen’s friends and one copy is believed to be in the hands of an unspecified Sunday newspaper.

The IPKat notes that the rules that are supposed to prevent prisoners cashing in on their crimes by selling their stories or publishing their memoirs do not actually affect the ownership of copyright in their writings. When Nilsen dies, the copyright in his manuscript will pass to his executors along with the rest of his estate. It is not clear whether the Home Office can influence the extent, if any, to which the posthumous publication of a literary work based on a prisoner’s crimes may be restricted or prevented to the extent that it will benefit his estate.

Dennis Nilsen’s crimes here, here and here
Law on prisoners’ earnings in the UK here
Profit from writing about one’s crimes: the position in Oregon


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