Do the crime, get paid to write the book?

Article | Issue: Feb 2023

In a new monthly feature SAMUEL BERNARD offers an opinion on a range of literary topics.

Does Crime Pay?

Australians consume crime like few other genres. True crime podcasts are habitually among the highest rated, Australian crime noir often frequents the bestsellers lists, and series like ‘Underbelly’ have become instant classics of Australian television. Perhaps infamous criminal turned author Mark ‘Chopper’ Read, said it best, ‘Posh people love gangsters.’ However, there is a law that may well be limiting the amount of true crime literature that is getting published, to the detriment of the industry. The Commonwealth Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 prevents convicted criminals from profiting from their crimes and notoriety, at least, that is what it is supposed to do. Two decades on, certain sections of this law have become archaic and irrelevant, to the point where the literary industry is being unfairly targeted. Consequently, this means that the Australian public are missing out on insightful and significant books written by reformed criminals.

Take Schapelle Corby for example – famed international drug smuggler – who has been a household name since her arrest in Bali in 2004. Just two years later Corby released her bestselling book My Story, which ultimately saw $128 000 seized by the Director of Public Prosecutions as it was deemed a proceed from her crime.

However, since returning home in 2017, Corby has dabbled in the music industry and featured on reality television shows SAS Australia and Dancing with the Stars, the former reportedly paying her between $80 000 and $100 000. Her Instagram account boasts 159000 followers, which, according to a Forbes article from November 2022, could fetch between $500 and $2500 per post. To date, Corby is closing in on 250 posts. I’ll let you do the maths.

In this age of reality television and social media influencers, Corby is accumulating huge profits simply from her notoriety. So, why is the government dissuading convicted criminals from publishing works that may well provide rare insights into the human condition, but still allowing them to profit from their celebrity status that came about solely due to their crime? Is it because they are trying to deter future criminals from offending? It doesn’t appear so.

When the Australian Attorney General’s department examined the proceeds-of-crime laws prior to the Act coming into effect, they concluded that the confiscation of literary profits would provide no deterrent against would-be criminals. Another crucial argument for these laws is the impact that literary works may have on victims. While I empathise with the sentiment – and of course, victims should receive compensation prior to the felon profiting – if the government truly cared about victim impact, they would surely outlaw the publication of these works entirely and should not allow criminals to feature on Australian television so freely.

So, in 2023, it appears that crime does pay. But through means that are evidently not captured under the Act. This means that the government is quite possibly robbing the Australian public of important works of literature. It’s time to reform these laws, to ensure criminals are not profiting from their notoriety and to bring fairness back to the literary industry. Even better, it might be time to allow reformed criminals their freedom of expression and give readers what they want, more true crime.

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