JUSTICES PERMIT STRICT CURBS ON USE OF UNPUBLISHED WRITING - 1990-02-21
The Supreme Court yesterday refused to review a controversial copyright ruling that severely restricts the ability of writers to quote from diaries, letters and other unpublished material.
The justices let stand without comment the decision by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York that quotations from letters, diaries, and other documents in a critical biography of Church of Scientology Founder L. Ron Hubbard constituted copyright infringement. The appeals court refused to issue an order prohibiting distribution of the book, "Bare-Faced Messiah," but only because the church's publishing arm waited too long to file suit.
The appeals court ruling has created alarm among publishers, historians and non-fiction writers because it suggests that such unpublished primary source materials "normally enjoy complete protection" from being quoted and that courts should generally enjoin publication of books or articles that copy "more than minimal amounts" of such material.