Release of Covenant School Killer's Writings Could Hinge on... Copyright Law?

AP Photo/John Amis

The ongoing legal battle over the public release of the Covenant School killer's writings took a strange turn on Wednesday, when the attorney representing victims and families who want to keep the material under wraps invoked a novel argument: releasing the material would be a violation of copyright law.


In what [attorney Eric] Osborne described as “an act of amazing grace,” the shooter’s parents transferred ownership of several documents to a trust controlled by the Covenant parents. 

“That ownership is a paradigmatic change in this case your honor,” said Osborne, who argued that copyright law should give them some say in whether the documents are released. He believes copyright was established the moment the writings were created.

However, Richard Hollow, who is among the attorneys representing those arguing the documents should be released, contested Osborne’s claims, saying they have no grounds to keep the writings, which are public records, private.

“You can’t have a legal copyright until you demonstrated that you have the necessary prerequisites of originality, and content whatever else it may be,” Hollow said. “Until you ask her all of those questions, we don’t even get into the sphere of copyright law is a red herring here.”

Despite Hollow's objections, Davidson County Chancellor I’Ashea Myles said she may ask for more briefing on the copyright argument before deciding whether or not the killer's writing, which includes journals and a suicide note, should be made public. Law enforcement officials in Nashville are also objecting to the release of the documents, claiming that the investigation into the shootings, which took place last March, is still active. 


While copyright law was a big topic of conversation on Wednesday, attorneys for the school argue that releasing the killer's innermost thoughts could inspire others to carry out similar attacks. 

“There are individuals out there that will grasp these writings, see that the notoriety has been provided and engage in copycat behavior,” said Peter Klett, attorney for The Covenant School. “That is a threat, and it relates to school security and safety.”

The petitioners argued that Klett’s definition of school security was too broad to be accepted as an exemption for not releasing all of the writings but agreed with the Metro Nashville Police Department’s stance on redacting certain school security information.

I feel for the families, and speaking personally, I have no desire to read through the twisted thoughts of a deranged individual who decided that murdering kids would be some valuable statement to the world. I even agree with Klett that these writings will be of great interest in that disturbing community that glorifies school shooters and spree killers. 

Keeping the killer's writings locked away won't get rid of that subculture, however, and some of the killer's writings have already leaked out, so the public is aware of at least a portion of the material. I'd argue it is in the public interest to officially release these documents. Sunlight is the best form of disinfectant, right? Blocking the release of the writings just makes them more enticing and interesting, especially to that twisted ideology that celebrates mass murderers. 


It sounds to me like Myles is looking for a reason to keep the documents under wraps, but regardless of her decision the ruling is almost certainly going to be appealed by the losing parties. It's already been more than a year since this material has come to light, and no matter what Myles decides, it's likely going to be quite some time before the public gets access to the information they contain. 

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