Sarah Palin and her publisher win Round 1 of "fair use" dispute

It's become common practice for the press to excerpt from embargoed books – but is it legal?

When Gawker leaked excerpts of her new book, Sarah Palin wondered (via Twitter): "Isn't that illegal?"

Sarah Palin was initially mocked when she protested a broken embargo on her new book, “America By Heart.”

When posted excerpts from the book before its official Tuesday release, Palin wrote on Twitter, “The publishing world is LEAKING out-of-context
excerpts of my book w/out my permission? Isn't that illegal?”

“ACTUALLY: NO,” read one of the more printable responses she received on Twitter. Gawker then fired back with a post titled “Sarah Palin Is Mad At Us for Leaking Pages From Her Book.” According to, Gawker wrote: “Sarah: If you're reading this – and if you are, welcome! – you may want to take a moment to familiarize yourself with the law ….”

But that’s not what the Gawker post says now. Instead, it notes that a federal judge ordered the site on Saturday to take down the book excerpts. In the order, which is also on the blog, a US District Court judge granted the request from publisher Harper Collins for a preliminary injunction preventing Gawker from “continuing to distribute, publish, or otherwise transmit pages” of Palin’s book.

A hearing about Gawker's posting of the excerpt is scheduled for Nov. 30.

The New York Times reported that an anti-Palin blog had also been asked to remove excerpts from the book. That blogger took down some pages but retained others, believing they were protected by fair use laws, the Times said.

Embargoes are common in modern publishing and just as commonly broken, but a Slate article as far back as 2003 notes the potential legal dangers: Jen Bluestein wrote that “in 1983 after The Nation published 300 words from Gerald Ford's then-forthcoming memoir, the publisher sued the magazine; the Supreme Court ruled that the magazine was guilty of copyright infringement.”

Book embargoes exist for two reasons, Bluestein wrote at the time: “[F]irst, to maximize (and control) media coverage by building advance buzz; and second, to leverage the most money for the publisher.”

Steven Lowman of The Washington Post weighed in earlier this month on just “the latest commotion” when an embargo was broken on President George W. Bush’s “Decision Points” memoir.

“Publicists may pull their hair out trying to protect their embargo and members of the media may fall over themselves to break it, but it’s hard to say if there are any winners in this game,” Lowman wrote.

Curious anyway? Here’s a peek at some of what Palin’s book had to say (and what people had to say about the book). For now there’s only one authorized excerpt around – an “exclusive sneak peek” posted Saturday on Palin’s own Facebook page.

Rebekah Denn blogs at

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