Morality of Enjoying Works Posthumously Published Without Authors' Permission

Salvete, omnes!

As a student of various types of literature, including primarily classical, I have often wondered about the question of the morality of someone publishing, say, a literary of even epistulary works without the consent or even contrary to the consent of the authors of those works.

If such publication happens, are Christians not supposed to read them, even though “everyone else” may be reading/may have read them and even though they may be quite good works and even offer us insight into a particular person’s life/his culture/a particularly period in history? After all, is not publication of these works possibly or definitely violating the wishes of the authors of the publications?

But, what if the person(s) who published them ultimately had good intentions at heart? What if they thought that, even though an author thought, for instance, that a work wasn’t good enough, that it was good enough in their eyes so they decide to publish it/make it available to the world? Or, what if the publication of such works, thinks the publisher, is of too great a benefit to the world to be left undone?

Should we read such works as Christians, again, since this kind of posthumous publication very often even directly violates the wishes of the author?

I’m thinking of the (albeit legendary, though strongly so) protestations of the poet Vergil who hadn’t time to finish his Aeneid before he passed and thus did not want it published. Apparently, he even wished for the work to be burned. At least one very much later source claims that the emperor Augustus ordered them published, and possibly even broke some laws concerning final wishes by doing so. So, in this case, even though so many people are now familiar with Vergil’s Aeneid and even though it is of great literary value both in itself and for future culture, should good Christians still not read it/have anything to do with it because of a very strong tradition of Vergil not having wanted it to be published?

I am also thinking of letters of great figures being published posthumously, often with very private details in them. These are often published by people who think that it would be good for society to know more about the person in this way. But, what if the author of this correspondence never gave permission before his death for the publication of some or any of his letters? Or, worse still, what he if strictly said that he did not want his letters published? Should we still read these letters, even if they are well-known/if they do offer us more insight into a person, even though we do not have the direct permission of the author of them? Considering the wishes of the author? COnsidering the benefit to society and to us? Considering the intentions of those who did publish the letters?

And, what about manuscripts of books, finished or unfinished that are found hidden away after an author’s death that eitehr the author never spoke about in life or explicitly said he didn’t want published but were anyway? No matter how famous/valuable they are, are good Christians to avoid reading/having anything to do with them because they may or may definitely have been published without an author’s permission?

In any of these cases, especially regarding literary works and epistles of literary and historical figures, would it even not be right to teach from them if you are, say a teacher of the classics or of history or of literature?

Thoughts on all of this? Please, if you can, support your positions with thorough argumentation/reasons.

Gratias multas.

No Misty.

Anything left behind when a person dies is property of their estate, heirs, or the state if there are no heirs. If a person wants something burned, they should see to it themselves.

If someone commits detraction by making known what should not be known, that is their sin. But publishing a literary or other type of work that the artist simply wasn’t satisfied with or had not published by the time of their death does not violate any commandments.

I do not think it would be a sin against justice since the property of a deceased person belongs to the heirs. Under certain circumstances it could be a sin against charity.

It’s illegal. If any heirs or assigns (meaning legal entities/persons) were willed an author’s possessions, anything unpublished would fall into that category, even if found many years later. Even if a Will did not exist, copyright law would still apply. For each country, such papers/manuscripts/letters would have to be reviewed by the body that handles antiquities or other works of art. They would have to be authenticated as well. From time to time, fake paintings and writings suddenly appear as “unknown works.” The appropriate experts would have to examine them. Since authors of published classic works are recognized by States and Countries, these works may end up in Museums or Libraries for further scholarly study. This could include National Historical Archives with limited access.

Only the correct legal entity in the country in question could grant the authority to publish such works since they would fall under National Heritage. That is, assuming there are no other legal hindrances for publication. Terms like, “works known and unknown, shall belong to his living heirs or their children, grandchildren, etc., in perpetuity.”


It depends. I think the Vatican makes certain historical documents available a certain number of years later - is it 100? By that time, anyone who would likely be hurt by it would be deceased. Not sure about that.

But suppose someone died 5 years ago, and his writings make reference to persons still living, whose identity and privacy the author specifically wanted protected; or, to put it another way, the author wanted to protect readers from undue titillation over lurid or gritty details. Best not to read it. Sometimes an author changes his mind after writing a work, we should follow their last wishes.

One time, after his death, I saw a show about singer Nat King Cole, who died in the 1960s. It showed him singing a song, in makeup which de emphasized his African American identity at someone’s request. According to the show, when he saw the clip, he hated the clip and wished it to be destroyed, and re-filmed that song with different make up. I was a little uneasy watching it, or rather, wondering why the producers of the show I was watching, did not heed that man’s request, or at least, leave it out.

During FDR’s lifetime, he explicitly did not want to be shown in a wheelchair, or on crutches. You will find very few pictures of him that way. Secret Service agents would go around among the crowds warning them not to photograph him that way in public appearances, and expose film of those who did.

Yet when the Memorial was being constructed for him in Washington in recent years, disability advocates demanded he be shown in a wheelchair, against his often repeated wishes. I don’t know how that ended, I hope they respected his wishes.

Nope, he’s shown in the chair. “Activists” always seem to get their way.

Thanks, guys, so far, for your responses.

As far as Vergil, he was pretty much too ill to do much about the Aeneid himself, as the story goes. He was to die before it was to be finished. Some have it that Augustus purposefully violated his wishes because he thought that the work was too good to be burned and would have benefitted those who would hear/read it too much to be let go like that.

So, in this case, was it immoral of the emperor to have done what he did? There is indeed even some suggestion that he violated the law in doing this, though both people in antiquity and those up til modern times have praised his decision, since a great literary work was not lost to the flames.

So, again, was this immoral of Augustus to have done, if true?

And, whether it was or not, is it now immoral for us to enjoy this work of great literature since it is rather likely that the stories that come down to us could have at elast some element of truth to them?

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