Some advice needed for a crime story

Now I read a post here about the musician from Sarajevo which oddly reminds me of the situation I am wrestling with.

A friend of mine called me and told a client’s story (he is a lawyer, so here you go). Said client was put in Jail for a near perferct case of murder. Only “near perfect” because one of his gang was caught doing something else and, after quite an interrogation, confessed. The police never found the body, which is not at all surprising, since the body was chained to an old boats engine and thrown into the mediterranean sea.

Anybody who met my friends client does describe him as good looking, charming, good manners, highly intelligent - and as ruthless as they come. A bit like Hannibal Lector, but for real.

I was - and still am - fascinated by this story, especially after reading all the stuff a lawyer can get you; so I agreed to write a screenplay about the case.

German law, so I was told, expressively prohibits earning money by selling the story of a committed crime. Unfortunately, the company my friend was working for did already demand a share from the earnings of the upcoming screenplay and perhaps the resulting movie as well; due to outstanding legal fees of their former client. This is up to my lawyer to sort out, certainly, but nevertheless:

Do I have the moral right to earn something out of somebody elses … well, crimes.

In moral terms, yes. In doing so you’d be following in the footsteps of many famous fiction writers throughout literary history, from Chaucer and Shakespeare onwards. Stories have to come from somewhere (IMO).

In practical terms, are you saying that the client agrees, as a means of paying his legal bills? I’d be surprised if the law allows your lawyer-friend to disclose information from a living identifiable client unless it is in the client’s direct interest and with his permission, or already in the public domain (in which case, I don’t see how the lawyer can demand a share of the earnings for information you could obtain by other means).

If the client does agree, presumably the law prevents him directly earning money from a crime. I imagine this could be an obstacle that could keep your lawyer friends busy for a while. :slight_smile:


How legal? Never mind ethical!! Is your lawyer friend`s discussing with you, details of a former clients case? :confused:

This is probably referring to the perpetrator of the crime benefiting. That`s the way it is in the UK.

Every time a Court Reporter or News Reader reports the gory details a crime, aren`t they earning a living by doing so?
Take care

With the clients permission, of course. Doing so otherwise would indeed be pretty much illegal.

Thats what I meant. Just lacking the words…

Of course. But there is a difference in reporting something and storytelling; at least I think so. Or not?

Isn’t that the sport lawyers are trained for? Keeps them busy and off the streets… :smiling_imp:

Well, I think I will meet with ‘my’ convicted murderer within the next month. Haven’t made up my mind yet, but you both think I should go on, don’t you?

Thanks for your advice,

Will do, and after meeting with that guy - more than ever :wink:

As I see it, developing the screenplay with the cooperation of the perpetrator and his lawyer is a very different situation–legally and ethically–than developing the screenplay based on materials in the public domain. (Incidentally, at least under US law any materials introduced at trial are in the public domain.)

First of all, how does the perpetrator benefit? If any cash flows to him (or to his creditors, like the law firm), then he is profiting from the crime at some level.

Second, where is the victim’s family in all this? At least in the US, their lawyers would be right there seeking a (probably large) share of the proceeds. If you haven’t heard from them yet, you will.

IMO, you should get your own lawyer. Since your friend represents the perpetrator (and wants to get paid), he has a conflict of interest. You need independent advice.

The ethical question is a matter for you and your conscience. Assuming the legal issues can be finessed, you still need to realize that you are bringing fame and possibly fortune to this admittedly dangerous criminal. Are you okay with that? Could you look the victim’s family in the eye and tell them so?


The point I was making was, that you can benefit; I can benefit but not the perp! I wasn`t inferring your vocabulary is deficient! God forbid! :laughing: :laughing: :wink: :laughing:

Presumably you ll only be, 'repackaging’, predominately, that which is already in the public domain and court records, embellished with the insider titbits. But!! Are you gonna have to get to know him well enough to be able to get under his skin? I imagine the perp would obviously expect you to present him to the paying public, in a way that burnishes his ego! Are you gonna end up being expected to glamourise him and his crimes/lifestyle? That aspect would trouble me on a moral level. Conversely, any refusal on your part to do so, could incur his wrath. As my wife has just pointed out to me, after reading your reply, “Lectors parting shot to Starling, on the phone at the end of S.O.T.L, was, "Im having a friend for tea.” :open_mouth:
DO take care!!

PS Ive just read Katherines response, and I have to say, she makes some very, very relevant points, all of which you should give serious consideration to. Be careful!!

You’re only going to get into legal/moral trouble if you make the screenplay a “true crime” story. Instead, make it a fiction. Change names of people and places, alter dates, add events that are presently not explained, etc. Then put a disclaimer in the opening credits. “Based on actual events.”

And that “client” of yours? He’s a total psychopath. No empathy at all, capable of great cruelty. I’d keep some distance and watch your back.

I have to admit that I haven’t thought of them. Good point, though. Thank you very much. I’m sure I have read about them - the victims family - but the development up until the murder is… well, its like being spellbound or something like that. Utterly fascinating. In itself worth publishing, no doubt about that. But most of it remains confidential.
Lucky me. Or cursed me. Whatever. But thanks again.

Good advice. Anyway, that fellow is safely put away for at least ten more years…

How else could I probably tell this one? Yes, there are many different way to do that, I can think of at least four without really thinking hard about it - but I do feel it would be somehow…wrong to present it in any other way.

That picture does show up, somehow, yes.

Anyway, thanks everybody. I have to think about it for a while.

Watching cats hunt is fascinating, too. Unless you’re the mouse.

And that’s exactly the ethical trap here. Your guy is a predator. Don’t let your fascination blind you to that.


So, since I am not the hunted mouse, but a watching one - is the fascination just a mixture of relief, for not being hunted, and good old-fashioned angst since I could be the next hunted one (probably just a bit over-simplified)? Or the intrinsic knowledge of, due to being part of the same species, I could, by whatever circumstances, become as deadly a predator as he certainly is?

I have read somewhere about that - the fascination of the evil - but until now failed to really understand - or, better put, feel that kind of emotion. Interesting.

Dont fall into the trap of thinking it takes ten years, for ten years to pass doesnt! Also! Many criminal organisations have their Registered Head Office, as the Boss`s prison cell.

Come to think about it. It doesnt take a great deal of wit, to cobble together the story of a screenwriter who falls foul of an incarcerated psychopathic gang boss, after being engaged to tell, 'The Killers Tale’. All the necessary[size=50]<------[/size][size=50]Im really getting good at spelling this word correctly, first time.[/size] ingredients are in this thread. I wouldnt even want this guy to know I exist, never mind meet up with him! :open_mouth:

Take care

An interesting, difficult issue.

Plenty of journalists effectively detail the crimes of all sorts of people every week, and not just for court reports as Vic suggests. Identifiable individuals have been accused of the bombing at Omagh in Northern Ireland in which twenty-nine people died, and the journalist who made the accusation is still at work on the same story. Over twenty years ago I became very familiar with the building of a case and producing of a story alleging that certain identifiable people committed six illegal killings; they weren’t punished and the journalists concerned are still very much alive and kicking. 8)

But then again, there has been a number of celebrated cases in Moscow, London, Dublin and the Middle East where journalists or authors have paid for their trade with their lives.

I share kewms’ qualms about the victim’s family and friends and the proposal that the perpetrator should profit. The profit issue alone could block the story both in law and in ethics. I would not pay.

Nonetheless, if the story is a good enough one, it will probably get out; if you don’t tell it, someone else probably will. Fictionalisation, smearing the details, is one way; explicitly using only public information but with the confidence that an inside line would give you is possibly another; a third would be to try to get the victim’s family and friends to talk as well as or instead of the perpetrator - surprisingly often they will, and they might have a different but as good a story to tell.


I agree. Law and ethics aside, I don’t think the story would be complete without the victim’s perspective.


Oh, what a tangled web!

Lots of things about this situation bother me. First, that your lawyer friend has apparently given you access to his files. Only the client can waive the attorney-client privilege. Even if the client’s waived the privilege, you may end up seeing (and inadvertently using) material that may create more legal problems for the client. It may put you in the uncomfortable position of being a witness, and you don’t want that.

Second, it bothers me that your lawyer friend’s firm seems to have hired you to write the crime boss’ screenplay. Here in the States, that could be an ethical violation on the attorney’s part, depending on when the law firm and client arranged to trade rights to the client’s story for the unpaid legal fees. Plus, you can bet that the law firm will want to censor your screenplay, since they’re giving you access to their files in exchange for a share of any money you make off the script.

That’s the third thing that bothers me: You really are paying a criminal’s debts, so he will benefit from your account of his crimes.

Fourth, it bothers me that you’ve been so taken with the criminal that you didn’t consider the victim or his family. That fact alone should make you think very hard about what you’re doing. You are already being used by the law firm and the client for their own purposes; don’t let them seduce you any further!

You could build a truly riveting story around the three forces at work in this case: the criminal and his legal team, trying to evade justice; the victim’s family, trying to cope and trying to find justice; and the police and prosecutors, trying to obtain justice. You really, really should rely heavily on the public record. (Yes, here in the States, everything that happens in trial and everything that’s filed with the court are in the public domain.) Talk to everyone involved. It may radically change your ideas about this case.

I used to have to report on crimes when I was a newspaper journalist, but my soul was untroubled because I was informing my readers of the objective facts of what happened; I wasn’t taking sides or glorifying the perpetrator. Telling this story from a more objective, journalistic perspective may satisfy your moral duty as well.

As for German law on the subject, I can’t speak to that. I would advise you, however, to get your own attorney, and not rely on your lawyer friend. Your friend already has an intolerable conflict of interest.

I do wonder, is there such a thing as a legal killing? :unamused:

I agree.

Now there is a happy thought.

Somehow I like this idea, to tell the story that way. Could save me a lot of trouble and I once did something like this before - well, it was a TV-Show, and the plot was the making of a show.
How about a story about an author who writes a story about an convicted murderer which…and so on. In doing so, I would be off the hook, wouldn’t I? Or am I getting more confused.

Yes, I think I do it that way. Wouldn’t even need to meet this guy, I presume.

Brillant. Love you all.

Tragically often, yes, when committed by the forces of and with the authority of the State.


Well, now: its dead and buried.

That is, until I resurrect it :smiling_imp:

Change some things around, put the “this is a work of fiction and not based on actual events.” clause in.