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Battle of Biographies Begins Again in Brazil

Battle of Biographies Begins Again in Brazil

At its core, the “batalha das biografias” – battle of the biographies – is a struggle that pits publishing freedom against personal privacy. Toss in book sale profits and allegations of libel, and you get a high-stakes conflict in Brazil’s publishing world.

Very soon, Brazil’s Congress will be voting on a proposed law that would protect the rights of an author to publish an unauthorized biography. Typically, these types of biographies are written about someone who has earned celebrity status. Currently, publishing unauthorized biographies is not a profitable option because of ambiguous laws and a series of legal judgments that have favored the interests of celebrities.

Major Brazilian publishers are trying to pave the way for the publishing of biographies in a case before the Supreme Court. Opposing the publishers is a group of musician-activist legends that includes Chico Buarque, Gilberto Gil, and Caetano Veloso. They are seeking amicus curiae status to make their argument in support of the ban against biographies. The press has pointed out the irony that these artists had previously been persecuted and exiled by Brazil’s former dictatorship that limited the freedom of expression.

The law proposed by Congressman Newton Lima seeks to give authors the freedom to publish biographies. Those opposing the law argue that the publishing of unauthorized biographies violates a celebrity’s right to privacy that is protected by Brazil’s Constitution. They also argue that the author of the biography has the unfair opportunity to make money from the book that is not shared with the subject of the book.

According to published reports, the Supreme Court may be leaning towards an author’s freedom to publish biographies. When speaking at a recent international conference for investigative journalists held in Rio, the Supreme Court’s Chief Justice, Joaquim Barbosa, voiced his belief that it is unreasonable to take books away from the public market. In his view, it’s better to have total freedom of publication and let each party assume the risk.

Chief Justice Barbosa went on to express sympathy for the celebrities who might be the subject of unauthorized biographies. While acknowledging that having intimate details of their lives being exposed to the public may be devastating, he believes that the solution lies in the celebrity’s right to sue for libel in the hopes of receiving a high monetary judgment that would deter future violations of privacy.

Authors and publishers, as well as celebrities and their fans, will be paying close attention to both the legal battle and the progress of the proposed legislation.