Document Type


Publication Date


OCLC FAST subject heading

Intellectual property


The focus of this Essay is the privacy of letters – the written manifestations of thoughts, intents, and the recollections of facts directed to a person or a narrowly defined audience. The importance of this privacy is captured in the novel Atonement by Ian McEwan and in the film based on the novel. The fulcrum from which the action springs is a letter that is read by someone to whom it was not addressed. The result is literally life-changing, even disastrous for a number of characters. One person dies, two people seemingly meant for each other are torn apart and a family left in shambles. This example is, of course, drawn from fiction but there is no doubt that it is a case of art imitating life. It is hard to imagine someone who has not been affected in one way or another by the reading of a message by someone for whom it was not intended. This Essay makes the case for life time protection of letters by invoking privacy interests and ending copyright protection.