Should public officials sell their story to Rolling Stone? Or any other publisher, broadcaster or studio? The tight-lipped yet outspoken Montgomery County police chief has co-written a book with Charles Fleming about his experiences and story that lead to the arrests of two suspects in the string of fatal shootings that terrorized citizens of Maryland, Washington DC and Virginia last fall.
But as the Washington Post is quick to point out, the county has strict rules regarding public officials “using the prestige of his or her office for personal gain” and expending county time on an enterprise that will personally profit the official. Rules aside, the Montgomery County Executive who hired Moose in 1999, Douglas M. Duncan (D), believes Moose's story should be told.
[…] “This is a special circumstance,” Duncan said. “He's got a great story to tell America, and he should be able to do that. Yes, we've got some ethics issues to get through, but we'll look at anything we need to do to make it work.
If necessary, Duncan said, he would ask the County Council to pass legislation authorizing the deal. […]
I'm sure his agent, David Vigliano, would disagree with me, but I would think this would be a perfect opportunity for a public official to follow the creed of the Creative Commons and like Cory Doctorow, use a Creative Commons non-commercial license for the content in the upcoming book. Like Cory, Moose should offer a free downloadable version (click that link and get your copy of Cory's Down and Out In The Magic Kingdom in any format from test to Apple Newton) of the book while selling a printed version at a nominal price. Not only would Moose's story get told, he would make it available to a wider audience and he would communicate a strong statement with regard to ownership and copyright of information that likely belongs in the public domain. Plus, he could allocate all or a portion of printed book proceeds to more needy causes.
It's a sketchy situation. But let's face it, Moose was paid to do his duty to the citizens of Maryland. That is, put the terrorists behind bars and spare further lives from the hands of the sniper(s). The events, investigation and details that lead to the amazing capture of the terrorists likely all occurred when Moose was on the County's time clock. Now I'm not privy to the employment contracts of law enforcement officials', but if they read like other creative service industries, Moose might argue that his employement was not a “work for hire” relationship. In that case, the intellectual property (story of the capture) would be his own. Accordingly, he owns the rights and could license this story to who are what he sees fits. If Moose, on the other hand, was under a work for hire contract, then anything Moose created while employed would belong to the county — and therefore the public. I doubt a law enforcement offical has any such verbage, distinction or definition it his/her employment agreement/contract. This is stuff for lawyers.
I'm no lawyer nor do I harbor interests or desires for this questionable trade. What I do know is that we have a public official getting paid for a story that's less than six months old. Is he greedy? has he already optioned the movie or TV special rights? What are his other ambitions? With the controversy that could stem from his actions, why not look to the Creative Commons or any alternative that will let his story reach all of us. And if anyone is to profit from the story, perhaps the proceeds would be better served for law enforcement education, the families of those victimized, public awareness campaigns or countless other entities.
I don't think Moose, his co-writer, agent nor publisher should let this go without leveraging an opportunity to do good, while serving as a terrific PR opportunity that would communicate a stronger message to a broader audience across the nation. Everybody wins. As they should.