In late July, Belgian electronic act Psy’Aviah was made aware of a biography on their band that had been making its way through stores digital and physical. Released by Betascript Publishing, the biography was never endorsed or authorized by Psy’Aviah; in fact, they had no knowledge of its existence up to this point. The Betascript biography turned out to be nothing more than the content from the Wikipedia article on Psy’Aviah lifted, printed, and sold. To this date, multiple electronic acts such as VNV Nation, Front 242, and Apoptygma Berzerk also have unauthorized Betascript biographies being sold. Reportedly, Betascript is a subsidiary of Germany-based VDM Publishing, which controls numerous publishing companies of similar nature.
The initial reaction, of course, is to balk at Betascript’s actions and decry them for their lack of ethics and taking advantage of these bands while hardly doing any true research of their own. Psy’Aviah member Yves Shelpe and Side-Line’s own Bernard Van Isacker have already made their opinions known publicly regarding Betascript’s actions. According to Shelpe’s own investigations, Betascript publishes countless titles, music-related and not, based on Wikipedia articles. One need only search for Betascript Publishing on Amazon.co.uk or Barnesandnoble.com to view long lists of titles ranging from Pay-As-You-Earn Tax to National Pool Guard Qualification to Sammy Brooks (Footballer). Furthermore, Shelpe found that numerous fans of his own band and even public libraries were buying these books. He himself decried Betascript’s actions, stating, “It’s not because something is legal that it isn’t a scam or pure unethical business.”
This sparks a very important question: IS there any legal argument here? With ethics being such a difficult field to argue (one need only take a Philosophy 101 course to know that), is there any legal ground here to dispute?
Let’s take a look.
Wikipedia articles are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License; in short, all content on Wikipedia is up for grabs with proper attribution to its origin (Wikipedia) and with redistribution under the same license. Examining the book, we see that it very blatantly cites Wikipedia as its primary source. To this writer, this alone should raise suspicion in anyone’s eyes. There is the attribution. Distribution, as defined on the Wikipedia page for such a license, means “to make available to the public the original and copies of the Work or Adaptation, as appropriate, through sale or other transfer of ownership.”
Betascript has thus followed the law of the license directly. They are reselling material that they were allowed to take, and they are doing so with a giant sticker on the front that identifies the source as free, online resource Wikipedia. Quite frankly, there is a particular lack of sympathy for anyone who willingly purchases something that they are told upfront can be accessed on Wikipedia.
Now, let’s look at another legal element: The Right of Publicity, or personality rights.
Using the prestigious Wikipedia again, along with the consultation of multiple legal advisors and law books, we can define this right as “the right of an individual to control the commercial use of his or her name, image, likeness, or other unequivocal aspects of one’s identity.” This particularly applies if the individual or entity has trademarked its name. Numerous countries embrace the Right of Publicity, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, and more.
While the island of Mauritius (the listed base of marketing for Betascript Publishing) does not specifically cite any laws surrounding the Right of Publicity, the homeland of parent company VDM Publishing (Germany) and numerous other nations to which Betascript have distributed their books have laws regarding the tort of appropriations (another name for violating the Right to Privacy and Right of Publicity). In the United States, Betascript Publishing have every right to sell their books, so long as they compensate the subjects (Psy’Aviah, etc.), as these bands could be making money from their biographies and are not. The decisive question is: are people buying this book believing that it is with the permission of the bands?
Ultimately, this is a case of buyer beware. The words “Wikipedia” are on the front of the books. There is no claim to being official in any way. If anyone is looking for an authorized, official biography of bands in this genre, Betascript Publishing – by its own definition – is not the source. It’s important for fans of these bands to do the research; if the bands are promoting their newest biography, chances are it is official. Otherwise, there should be a healthy dose of skepticism.
Is the method of obtaining and publishing information legal? Absolutely. Is the act itself, though? Based on the common and civil law of numerous world nations and the bands’ lack of knowledge/consent, it’s questionable. If the bands can make a case that their name is being used to sell these books, then Betascript Publishing (and, by proxy, its parent VDM Publishing) are violating the laws of the nations to which they are distributing these books.
When reached for comment, a representative from VDM Publishing simply stated that the books are based on Wikipedia articles and suggested that we contact the authors for further details. No contact information was given for any authors and representatives of Betascript Publishing were unable to be reached for comment.
For more information, please visit these websites…
Right of Publicity:
Creative Commons Website:
Side-Line Magazine (Link to original article):
VDM Publishing Website:
Psy’Aviah Website http://www.psyaviah.com
Psy’Aviah MySpace http://www.myspace.com/psyaviah
Psy’Aviah Facebook https://www.facebook.com/psyaviah
Psy’Aviah ReverbNation http://http://www.reverbnation.com/psyaviah
Psy’Aviah SoundCloud http://http://soundcloud.com/psyaviah
Alfa Matrix Website http://http://www.alfa-matrix.com
Alfa Matrix MySpace http://www.myspace.com/alfamatrix
Alfa Matrix Facebook http://www.facebook.com/Alfa.Matrix
Chaostar (Zak Vaudo)