Leave Schapelle’s money alone

The Queensland government is investigating whether it can prevent Schapelle Corby from being paid for her first interview since her release from a Bali jail – and, presumably, any future media deals she might make.

The press has dutifully rolled out legal experts who either think it is highly likely Queensland (or the Commonwealth) would be successful, or highly unlikely.

Either way, rumours are Corby already has a $2+ million deal lined up already with Channel Seven.

And good for her. Any attempt to take that money, or prevent her selling her story now or in the future, would be a clear and basic breach of her right to freedom of speech.

Obviously, there is a clear level of public interest in hearing what she has to say: the Corby case has been a constant Australian fascination for nearly a decade. If Channel Seven and Corby can make a few bucks meeting that demand, then we’ll all be better off for it.

I explained why in a piece in the Drum back in 2011. The issue was whether David Hicks should be allowed to profit from publishing his strange memoirs:

There’s absolutely no question if a court convicts a bank robber they shouldn’t be able to keep the loot as a nest egg for when they get out of jail. In that case, the stolen money is a direct result of the crime.

By contrast, literary proceeds of crime aren’t really “proceeds of crime” at all. Trading off the notoriety you gain from robbing a bank is not the same as living large on the bank’s money once you get out of jail.

In fact it’s quite the opposite: writing a book is an entirely legal endeavour. In fact, it’s an admirable one. Any profits gained are gained honestly – writing a book is a lot of work. And if the book sells, it implies consumers have gained something from it. A profitable book is a net benefit to society, regardless of the history of the author.

You could say the same thing about a television interview. Corby is not being paid $2+ million for doing something illegal, she’s being paid for answering questions in front of a camera.

That counts as work – and work which many Australians are eager to watch. She’s entitled to negotiate whatever price she can get for it.

I trace the history of literary proceeds of crime laws and their moral panic foundations in the Drum piece above.

But at the most fundamental level, literary proceeds of crime laws, by restricting the legal conditions by which an individual can speak, are a limitation on their right to speak.

Once again, whether it’s donating to a political party, writing a memoir, boycotting a company, or answering questions on camera, money can be speech.

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