This is a long post… so feel free to scroll past if you don’t have time to kill.  This week, I ran smack into an ethical dilemma and it was all thanks to this short email from a complete stranger:

Charles Willeford’s GRIMHAVEN. Looks like you expressed interest in it in a blog  a couple of years ago. Still interested?

Yes, I replied, of course I was interested. GRIMHAVEN is Willeford’s unpublished Hoke Mosely novel, his dark and self-destructive follow-up to MIAMI BLUES, his break-out hit. GRIMHAVEN  reportedly turned Hoke into a sociopath who murders his children. Willeford’s agent wisely counseled him that it would be career suicide to submit that book to his publisher and that, instead, he should bury it and write something that would capitalize on the success of MIAMI BLUES, rather than piss all over it. Willeford took the advice and wrote three more great Hoke novels before his death. But like all Willeford fans, I’ve been intensely curious about the book. The few people I know who’ve read it say it’s Willeford at his best and worst.

So hell yes, I want to read it.

A day or two later, I got another  email from the stranger. This time the note was longer, chatty, friendly, and full of tantalizing comments about the book ("it’s a viscerally sickening read, alright (I’ve got two girls), even if it has a certain internal consistency and simplicity"). 
He went on to talk about how he bought a xeroxed copy of the manuscript some years ago from a "bootlegger" for a mere $20 and that he came across  "some asshole" selling the same photocopy for $200 on the Internet. 

But I figure that it’s something the world should have, so I scanned and OCRed it, and after being distracted from it for about six months I’m finishing up the proofreading.  Right now I’ve got 200 tiffs and 200 individual-page text files, and once the proofing is done I’ll concatenate it into a single text file.  So the question is this:  What’s the best way to get it out to the people who want to find it?  Is there a torrent tracker favoured by traffickers of bootleg manuscripts?

Yes, I wanted to read GRIMHAVEN…but the idea that someone would take an unpublished manuscript that didn’t belong to him and distribute it all over the planet made me queasy…as did the idea that he thought that I would help him do it.

But why shouldn’t he think so? After all, didn’t I jump out of my seat when he offered me the book? Didn’t that make me just the kind of guy he thought I was? While I was wrestling with these uncomfortable questions, another email showed up from him:

This version of Charles Willeford’s "Grimhaven" was produced from a photocopy of his original manuscript bought on the open market […] According to  http://www.broward.org/library/bienes/lii12101.htm
(the Willeford Archive at the Broward County Library):

Grimhaven: a novel.  [photocopy of typescript] 212 leaves, no date. NOTE: as per Betsy Willeford: "Ms. of the "black Hoke Mosely", never published, sold to a small but ruthless group of collectors in the form of Xerox copies. May not be copied in the library by patrons who’ll wholesale it on the Internet."

It’s not clear from this what Mrs. Willeford’s objection is based on – that is, whether she doesn’t want anyone profiting from it or doesn’t want it distributed at all.  The former position I agree with (particularly if she’s resolved to never have it officially
published); the latter I cannot.  But I’m far from a "ruthless collector", and, in fact, I don’t normally read mystery or crime fiction.  Rather, I’m a reader of broad interests who went on a  Hoke Moseley binge in 2005, wanted to read Grimhaven, and having found a copy at a reasonable price (probably less than it would  have cost as a new hardcover, actually) felt it should be made more readily available to others of similar interest. If you don’t agree with me, well, don’t read it.  But now you have the choice, and nobody will profit inappropriately from it.

And there, attached to the email, was the entire manuscript of GRIMHAVEN. I couldn’t wait to read it…but then something stopped me.

I felt like a man about to cheat on his wife.

How could I argue about the creative rights of authors… and rail against fanfiction…and yet read a manuscript that clearly the rights holder —  Betsy Willeford —  doesn’t want distributed?

It doesn’t matter whether my mysterious new friend agrees with Mrs. Willeford’s objection or not… it’s not his book. So, with great reluctance, I deleted the file unread. I also sent him an email telling him that I’d deleted it and why I had done it:

As a writer, I have to respect the artistic choices of the author and his estate. If they don’t want the manuscript disseminated, then it shouldn’t be. It doesn’t belong to you. It doesn’t belong to me.  Neither you nor I  have the right to distribute an unpublished manuscript that we didn’t write and  have no claim to. As much as I want to read GRIMHAVEN, ethically and morally I can’t bring  myself to do it this way. I’m an author. I would be betraying the creative rights of another writer and the wishes of his heirs, the rightful owners of the manuscript that you’ve sent me. So, I’ve deleted the manuscript you sent me and I urge you not to   continue in your efforts to distribute a manuscript you do not own. The bottom line: what you’re doing is wrong. Keep the manuscript to yourself.

He wrote back to me right away. He wrote, in part:

I had a vague inkling that you might come down on that side of this argument.  I’ve been hearing it for 25 years or so in the context of music bootlegs, I’ve discussed it at length with musicians on both sides, and throughout I’ve maintained that "the people have a right to hear", particularly if there’s no profiteering involved.  I still feel that way in this case, and believe that the historical and artistic record is of the greatest importance, certainly in the absence of a *clear* indication of the nature of the author’s (or his estate’s)  objection.

It was that last line that bugged me the most. Mrs.  Willeford doesn’t want the manuscript copied or distributed. That’s pretty damn *clear* to me. And she doesn’t have to justify herself to him or anybody else. It’s her decision…and hers alone. Whether or not bootleggers "profit" monetarily from disregarding her wishes has nothing to do with it. That’s a lame rationalization, the same one fanficcers use. The issue is respecting an artist’s creative right to control his work… particularly, in this case, an unpublished work.  If it’s the "historical" literary value he’s truly worried about, the manuscript is available for scholars to view at the library with the rest of Willeford’s papers.  So I wrote to him again. I said, in part:

The public has no absolute "right" to read a manuscript that an author doesn’t want read (or, in this case, will only allow to be read under certain conditions). It belongs to him and his heirs, not you. And it is their decision, and theirs alone, legally and ethically, whether the manuscript can be distributed or not.

Naturally he disagreed with me, but in a friendly way. No harm done. And yet… this exchange still troubles me. I think it’s because I was so quick to say yes when offered the manuscript.

I have to wonder… would I have hesitated to read the book if he hadn’t expressed his desire to widely distribute it? If it was just our little secret, one Willeford fan to another? I think my desire and curiosity would have gotten the better of me.  I would have read it.  And what does that say about me and my integrity?

34 thoughts on “Temptation”

  1. I don’t know what it says about your integrity, but I do applaud your decision. And your correspondent is rationalizing. No one distributes other people’s work because “the public has a right to know.” They do it because they want to, and then they go finding good-sounding rationalizations to shore it up.

  2. I applaud your decision.
    Did you not also have the feeling there was perhaps a method to his method? A purpose in his attempt to ensnare you in this bootleg?

  3. If he was that fired up about seeing that Willeford fans see the work, couldn’t he approach either a publishing company or some sort of POD company and see if they’d be willing to work with the estate in a way to publish the book that would profit the estate and be in keeping with WIlleford’s wishes?
    He *DID* at one point want it published — but control of that/any resulting profit should belong to the estate.
    THat being said, perhaps a traditional publisher would pick it up now that Willeford is gone? It’s certainly not going to hurt his career, and I imagine it would cost less to publish a posthumous book — plus there’s already some ‘buzz’ around this book, at least on the collector level.

  4. Would it make a difference in your position if the ms were being offered to, say, a professor of American literature who’d read and disseminate it for scholarly research?

  5. Lee, the fact that you are working through your thoughts and questioning your actions (and “what if actions” you never acted upon) says a lot about your integrity. I don’t think you need to worry or dwell on it; you did the right thing. But I understand, well, not so much about an opportunity to read a secret bootlegged manuscript, but about questioning your actions.
    I often want to put a fist in someone’s eye when I poor my heart out about my sins or guilt or when I question my actions and they say, “It was war, you did what you had to.” I always want to say, “Did I? How do you know I did the right thing, really? And how do you know had __________ not happened, that I would have done right by my integrity?”
    Lee, it WAS about mass distribution and not a little secret, so don’t worry what you would have or not have done. That scenario wasn’t what was on the table. You can punch me in the eye socket now.

  6. Some mud for your waters —
    Kafka wanted his work destroyed after his death, or said he did, anyway. Max Brod couldn’t bring himself to do so and began publishing it and certainly and the world and even the English language, which now has the increasingly useful word “Kafkaesque” is richer for it.
    Murnau’s Nosferatu is clearly an unauthorized derivation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and the courts agreed with Stoker’s widoe, demanding the destruction of its prints and negative. A few survived, and we, thankfully, retain the film today, though shorter than it was originally. Remember, it wasn’t as though the settlement was to lock away the prints until the book or film entered the public domain — it was to be wiped from history.

  7. And what does that say about me and my integrity?
    What is says is that you’re a human being capable of giving in to your temptation. It also says that the temptations for fans of books and authors can be extremely powerful, and that it’s easy to see why people who give in to those temptations don’t like to be told they’re doing something immoral.
    If I were you, I would have tried to contact Ms. Willeford. Did she mean that she didn’t want it sold wholesale on the internet or distributed wholesale on the internet? The problem with using “wholesale” as a verb is that it leaves the meaning in doubt (for me, at least).
    Anyway, this shows just how powerful the lure of fannishness can be.
    Thanks for the post.

  8. Thought provoking post. I agree with you that the owner of the rights has a right (hence the word, I assume, though I’m no lawyer and probably totally wrong on that) to decide whether or not the manuscript is read.
    However, can you elaborate a few points:
    What was the origin of the emailer’s copy of the manuscript?
    And, What exactly did that bit about being photocopied mean?
    Sorry if I sound dense, it’s just, I don’t know how the emailer (or the person he bought a xeroxed copy from for $20) got a hold of a copy to begin with — was it registered somewhere and that registered copy stated it should not be xeroxed?
    Also, I find it interesting that you were willing to read it when you thought it was just a fan-to-fan exchange. I suppose you can chalk it up to the fact that when the offer was first made, you were a) excited and b) hadn’t been told of his intensions to distribute it widely.
    The other thing you said, about fanfic. And I have a feeling this is were you might get mad at me.
    What makes your Monk or DM novels any different than fanfic novel about those same characters, except that you were paid to write them? I mean, you didn’t come up with those characters either. I’m really asking — in your opinion, and in your experience, do the Monk and the DM creators/rights holders have a lot of say about what you write and how you treat the pre-existing characters, and is that why your writing of this type is different than fanfiction?

  9. Interesting take on this, Lee.
    From what I understand, Willeford’s publisher decided it wasn’t right to publisher, but Willeford had no problems with it.
    His wife seems to be annoyed that people are making money off of it without being compensated, and I can see her point, but she has no objection to it being read because anyone can go to the Brown Library and read it.
    You might have read it and then deleted it, then you wouldn’t have to wrestle with the ethical dilemma of ownership.
    There’s an old internet arguement that downloading/uploading isn’t stealing, because the victim isn’t deprived of material goods, only the ‘possibility’ of a sale.
    Going to the library, buying a book used, reading an ARC–these also deprive the author of a sale.
    I’m all for these sales. I want to be read, whether I’m paid for it or not. My ARCs are sold all the time, and I’m happy there’s a demand for them.
    I might not make money off of every sale, but the more people that read me, the more sales I’m likely to get in the long run, due to branding and name recognition.
    If Mrs. Willeford allowed this to be distributed, perhaps enough interest would catch on and a publisher would make her a decent offer.
    From a writer’s standpoint, I would be tickled to see an underground collectors market dealing in my unpubbed manuscripts after I’ve died. I’d want my wife to make money from them, sure, and I hope she’d try to sell them. But if she didn’t, the fact that I had a fanbase who wanted to read everything I’ve written would be a nice feeling to take to the grave.
    I’d love to read Grimhaven. I’ve been a Willeford fan since the 80s, and have a lot of his pulps.
    But I’m a ‘do it and apologize later’ type of guy.

  10. No ethical dilemma. You did the right thing. And from your post – the second you started to realize something was funky, you started questioning, so there you go. Good on ya.
    I doubt your “what if” scenario at the end would have played out any differently. Knowing you as I do, in the end, I think you would have been the standup guy you are.

  11. Lee, it’s so damn hard to fly with the eagles when you have feet of clay, isn’t it?
    Your ambivalence and your decision say to me that you are human. That is a hard enough job in and of itself that you needn’t complicate it with overwhelming guilt or angst because you were tempted.
    Without temptation, we’d all be lounging around the Garden of Eden, dumber than dirt.

  12. The “people have a right to hear/see” argument is an old one, and not one I particularly agree with, seeing as how I’ve had it thrown in my face when I’ve caught people bootlegging my films and videos – some of those people are quite brazen about it, which is especially aggravating – at least until I got authorities involved… 🙂
    The emailer sounds like he’d made up his mind no matter what the rightsholder wanted, and was clinging to his own perceived loophole to justify his actions – he may not be wholesaling (selling) it, but he’s certainly distributing it wholesale (complete) in my book…
    Congrats on sticking to your guns…

  13. “His wife seems to be annoyed that people are making money off of it without being compensated, and I can see her point, but she has no objection to it being read because anyone can go to the Brown Library and read it.”
    This is the point I was getting at…if it’s available to scholars, why not to amateur ones, so long as they’re not actively stealing sales?

  14. Lee,
    Just wanted to say that the tale you shared in this post, the one about your ethical struggle, love for a great author and the attraction a lost work holds, THAT tale in and of itself was a great story well told and I thank you for it. I also believe you made the right decision,

  15. King Tut wasn’t unearthed for money, but you still have to pay money to get in to see him as well as what was buried with him. They could have just as easily taken a few pictures and covered the tomb with steel and concrete.
    (“He gave his life for tourism” –Steve Martin)
    There’s a lot of stuff that dead guys don’t want the public to see, but there’ll always be those who are less than respectful. In this case, the widow might license out the Hoke Mosely character for income, and so the dissemination of any unauthorized work could damage the value of that license, even if it that work was deemed original.
    Encouraging people to resist reading the stolen work is therefore a good thing.

  16. the dissemination of any unauthorized work could damage the value of that license
    This is a good point, but isn’t it only applicable to distribution of the product, rather than simple possession? And the possession would cease to be an issue if the book was read and then discarded.
    I realize ethics is a personal thing, but who exactly would be getting hurt, and what damages would be incurred, had you read the book? Couldn’t you just go to the Brown Library and read it? What is the ethical difference between reading it on your computer, or at the library? Is it the fact that you’re reading a download would be supporting a bootlegger? Even if you didn’t pay the bootlegger, and he received no monetary compensation?
    Stealing is wrong. Morally and legally. Protecting the interests and wishes of the dead is a moral issue. But I’m not sure reading the book would have crossed any legal or moral boundries.
    If Willeford (or his estate) gave permission for his work to be viewed by the public at the library, and Willeford himself had turned in the book expecting it to be published and expressed no desire to have it destroyed, who is getting hurt, financially, legally, or morally, by you reading it?
    The whole point of copyright is to protect the holder from unlawful use. Where is the unlawful use here?
    Do you consider recieving the manuscript the same as receiving stolen goods? If so, who is the damaged party in this case? The widow? How is this any different than you buying a Hoke book used? She doesn’t get any money for that, either.
    This would be more along the lines of a paparazzi taking a picture without permission, I’d think. Of course, no one thinks they have any ethics at all.
    Finally, is there any way you can contact the widow directly and ask her opinion on all of this?

  17. Betsy Willeford said to me four or five years ago when I interviewed her that GRIMHAVEN isn’t gonna get published as long as she lives.
    Don’t really know about it, though. I’d’ve probably even saved it for my computer. (Even though this is something I don’t actively do. I don’t even know how to share music files.)

  18. Lee did the right thing. The thing that irritates me (as a lawyer who represents creators of copyrighted material) is the blindness of the “it’s good for them because it’s free publicity” rationalization. Even if it was—and, contrary to received wisdom, there is no statistically validated evidence that so-called “brand awareness” actually increases sales of intellectual property—it’s not a fan’s choice. It’s the author’s choice. And the Supreme Court has already specifically said so, in Tasini (533 U.S. 483, 498 n.6):
    “More to the point, even if the dissent is correct that some authors, in the long run, are helped, not hurt, by Database reproductions, the fact remains that the Authors who brought the case now before us have asserted their rights…. We may not invoke our conception of their interests to diminish those rights.”
    Go ahead. Say you like someone’s work. Just don’t get overenthusiastic and infringe that person’s rights because you think it would be good for them.

  19. Betsy Willeford reviews crime fiction for the Miami Herald. I reckon she’d be easy enough to contact if someone wanted to.
    I think Konrath is right: who would be harmed if you read the manuscript? It’s already available to be read, assuming you wanted to go to the trouble.
    There’s a procedural difference between reading a bootlegged copy of the manuscript and going to Broward County and reading it in the library — but I’m not sure there’s an ethical one.
    Actively disseminating the manuscript, of course, would be a different matter, as that would do (potential) financial harm to the estate.
    But there’s no harm in reading it. Just make sure you buy a copy if it’s ever published.

  20. Lee,
    I live a stone’s throw from the Broward County Library where the Willeford manuscript is stored. It is part of the library’s special Bienes collection of rare books and materials, and anyone with an ID can go in and read “Grimhaven.” But it’s under pretty strict guard and you can’t make copies. (I’ve used the collection in the past). I’m a Willeford fan and you have me so curious I am tempted to walk over Monday morning and take a look. Does that make me less a sinner than someone who buys a bootlog MS? Or do I get by on a “scholarly” pass?

  21. Betsey Willeford’s only prohibition is against copying for distribution to the public. She does not prohibit reading the manuscript in the library. This is a commonplace stricture that is not quite identical to fair-use doctrine but is similar in nature. Essentially, though she doesn’t expressly say it in her embargo, she has made the work available to scholars, biographers, and journalists or other people with valid credentials who are willing to read the work right there. Reading it in the library ought not to be regarded as a violation of the author’s or Mrs. Willeford’s wishes. Reading a bookleg copy elsewhere does violate the owner’s rights and her explicit instructions about distribution.

  22. It may help if we focus less on the rights part of copyright and more on the copy part. i.e. libraries are OK because they don’t make copies. File sharing services, on the other hand, typically allow users to make and distribute copies (or at the very least, allow multiple users to access a single copy at the same time). And, while it is legal for someone to sell or give away an original item–a book, CD, software, etc. that he or she legally owns (as long as he or she does not retain a copy of the original)–it is not legal for someone to make copies of that same original item and sell or give away those copies. cf. Lee’s situation above in which the person was distributing copies, not acting as a library and loaning out his original to others for them to read.

  23. “the people have a right to hear”?
    A RIGHT to hear? Could your correspodent please point me to the section of the Constitution that covers this?
    This nonsense about people’s “rights” to do as they please with whatever they choose to has reached ridiculous proportions. Mrs. Willeford is the owner of the material, and it is her say as to what is done with it. Period, end of story. If she allows it to be read in the library under controlled conditions, that is HER right. If she decides to publish it, that is HER right. If she does not want it seen by anyone anymore and pulls it from the library, that is HER right.
    We, the public, have no “rights” as to her decision or wishes.
    Lee, chill. You were tempted, but you stood firm. I had my own temptation a few years back when a copy of David McDaniel’s THE FINAL AFFAIR came into my hands, but I put it back on similar grounds.
    In this instance, right is right and wrong is wrong. There is no fabled “gray area” on this one. If Mrs. Willeford ever decides to have it published, then I’ll be among the first to snap up a copy. Until then, GRIMHAVEN will have to remain what it is; a buried treasure.

  24. Does anybody happen to know Betsy Willeford’s email address? I had a correspondence with her for a while but moved. I wrote one of the only academic articles ever printed on Willeford’s work. It appears in my book Comedy After Postmodernism: Rereading Comedy from Edward Lear to Charles Willeford (Texas Tech 2001).
    I would like to ask her a couple of questions.
    Maybe if someone knows her they could send her my email.

  25. Charles didn’t want the Grimhaven ms. read. I am his literary executor as well as his widow, and I have full copyright rights to Grimhaven.
    What started out simple, in the days of xeroxing and selling bootleg nanuscripts off the back of a truck like so many ripe watermelons, has become complicated by internet access and the concommitant view that a person armed with a browser can have everything he or she wants.
    I don’t want to go to court. A simple warning in the form of a letter from me and a followup from the estate’s lawyer was sufficient to keep Grimhaven off eBay and other online vending machines. Consider this note a simple warning.

  26. Uh, if Mrs. Willeford isn’t the author and she’s the one who doesn’t want it published then how is not reading it following the author’s wishes? It’s the fault of some publisher that it wasn’t published originally, if the author had his way it’d be out there.
    And Ken, the book being “ugly and disturbing” is the absolute worst reason to erase it from existence, that’s just cowardice and censorship. Should we hide all books that somebody decides is “disturbing”?

  27. Johnny,
    You are miss-informed. Charles Willeford didn’t want the manuscript published and Betty, as his widow and executor, controls his estate (and all his published and unpublished work). If you’d bothered to read the comments here before posting one yourself, you would know that.


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