Law: When Personal Memoirs Are News

Press freedom outweighs an ex-President's copyright

Memoirs of major public officials are big business. Presidents and prominent members of their Cabinets can often make more money writing about their time in office than they earned in salary while serving. Publishers are eager for such books, in part because they can make extra profits and garner valuable publicity with the sale of first serial rights to magazines. But as authors, what do the newsmakers own and when do they own it?

In May 1979, Harper & Row and the Reader's Digest Association were set to publish A Time to Heal, an account by Gerald...

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