Judge: copyright means public has no right to read Nashville school shooter's writings

Mass shooter Audrey Hale killed three children and three adults last year. Hale's parents inherited the writings and ultimately gave the copyright in them to the families of the victims. A judge has ruled that the public therefore has no right to access the media, despite them having been filed in court proceedings. The ruling, CNN reports, creates an exception to Tennessee's public records act.

Myles ruled that "the original writings, journals, art, photos and videos created by Hale" are subject to an exception to the Tennessee Public Records Act created by the federal Copyright Act.

The ruling comes more than a year after several groups filed public records requests for documents seized by Metro Nashville Police during their investigation into the March 2023 shooting.

The shooter left behind at least 20 journals, a suicide note and a memoir, according to court filings. When the records requests were denied, several parties sued, and the situation quickly ballooned into a messy mix of conspiracy theories, leaked documents, probate battles and accusations of ethical misconduct. Myles' order will almost surely be appealed.

The authorities refused to release anything from the outset; the copyright assignment device came into it later.

After the initial records requests last year, police said they would eventually release the documents but could not do so right away because their investigation was still open. The groups suing for the immediate release of the records — including news outlets, a gun rights group, a law enforcement nonprofit and Tennessee state Sen. Todd Gardenhire — argued that there was no meaningful criminal investigation underway since Hale, who police say acted alone, was dead. … As part of the effort to keep the records closed, Hale's parents transferred ownership of Hale's property to the parents' group. Attorneys for the parents then argued they owned the copyright, further reason the records could not be released.

Using copyright as a tool to turn court documents into secrets, what could go wrong? The material already ended up becoming a subject of conspiracy theory and was ultimately leaked to right-wing media, which then posted excerpts shaded to its preferred narrative of the shooting. Unintended consequences, intended outcomes.

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