Apr 242008

This post is simply “for the record,” in light of the distortions of the facts posted elsewhere.

Last Sunday, I was perusing that Branden-worshipping cesspool of a discussion forum known as “Objectivist Living.” I noticed the following announcement in a thread entitled Phoenix Objectivists start new lecture series:

Posted by Mike Renzulli on Apr 19 2008, 01:47 PM:

When: Thursday, April 24th, 2008 at 6:30 p.m.

Where: Black Bear Diner
2410 West Bell Road
Phoenix, AZ

Admission: Attendees must buy something to eat.

Event Description: For our first meeting at our new location and the last of the month, we will listen to the first in a six-part pre-recorded lecture series done by Diana Mertz-Hsieh titled: Objectivism 101 which was a lecture Mrs. Hsieh gave at The Atlas Society’s Summer Seminar in 2003.

Ayn Rand’s novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged offer a unique and inspiring moral vision, but translating those ideals into daily life can be challenging. Through a mixture of lecture and discussion, Diana Mertz Hsieh will survey the basic principles of Objectivism, from metaphysics to aesthetics.

She will focus on both the theory and practice of the philosophy, contrasting it with common religious and cultural views. Ideas discussed in these six sessions will include reason as the only means to knowledge, free will as the choice to think or not, the integration of mind and body, emotions as automatic value judgments, life as the standard of value, the major virtues, the trader principle, capitalism as the only moral social system, and much more.

Mrs. Hsieh is a graduate student in philosophy at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

I was more than a bit surprised to learn that I was to be the lecture series! I’d not been contacted by anyone about playing my lectures at this meeting.

By way of background, the six-lecture series was given at the last Summer Seminar of The Objectivist Center I attended. While I’m still reasonably proud of those lectures, precisely because I worked hard to clearly and accurately present Ayn Rand’s Objectivism, I’m sure that I’d find all kinds of problems with them if I listened to them now. So as a general matter, I’m not too keen on the idea of anyone playing them before a group, particularly not without some strong warning that I do not vouch for the content and that I’ve disassociated myself from The Objectivist Center (today, The Atlas Society).

After some inquiries to Arizona friends, I was pointed to the web site for the Phoenix Objectivists. (That’s not the same group as the Arizona Objectivists, a group that I’ve had nothing but good dealings with in the past.) Any possible willingness to allow my lectures to be played at the Phoenix Objectivists disappeared when I saw its page of links: it’s a “Who’s Who” list of dishonest pseudo-Objectivists, without a single link to anything associated with or supportive of the Ayn Rand Institute. It even lists “ARI Watch” (!!). Basically, I don’t wish to provide any kind of value to the very people so invested in attacking me and mine. (I also saw from other web surfing that the group’s leader Mike Renzulli is actively involved with the Libertarian Party.)

So I wrote the following letter to the e-mail address for the group listed on the web site.

From: Diana Hsieh
Date: Sun, 20 Apr 2008 17:49:56 -0600
To: Subject: My Objectivism 101 Lectures

Mike —

I recently saw your announcement to Objectivist Living about your forthcoming event(s) featuring my Objectivism 101 lectures. You should know that those lectures are copyrighted — and that the copyright is held by me. (TOC’s copyright expired after two years.) So you cannot play them before an audience without my permission.

Given what I’ve seen on the Phoenix Objectivists web site, I am not willing to grant you permission. You might be a decent fellow, but I do not wish to be associated the promotion of destructive and dishonest critics of Ayn Rand and Objectivism — as found on your web site. (If you wish to know my reasons for those judgments, you are welcome to peruse the many essays I’ve written at http://www.dianahsieh.com/ff.)

If you choose to go ahead with your plans, I won’t stop you. However, you should know that you would be violating my property rights. The moral wrong of that should be obvious.

You are welcome to forward this letter to anyone you please.


In response, he asked for documentation of my claims. Meanwhile, he began a thread on Objectivist Living entitled Diana Mertz-Hsieh nasty gram (!!) with the following:

Posted by Mike Renzulli on Apr 21 2008, 05:48 PM

Well Folks,

Diana Mertz-Hsieh has struck again. As it turns out, she just sent me an e-mail stating that she doesn’t give me permission to play her Objectivism 101 lectures for my group’s meeting coming up this Thursday.

Hsieh says that she holds the copyright for it, that TAS’s copyright for her lectures has expired and, while she will not stop me, she states that my doing so would be stealing her intellectual property.

I already have a call into Ed Hudgins at TAS to see if what she is saying is accurate. I may have to bag using the lectures until the legalities of doing so are cleared up unless someone on these boards knows otherwise.

Regardless if she is right or not, its one more feather in her cap of making an ass out of herself.

As you might imagine from that “OL” crowd, the replies were even worse. (Note that Mike didn’t actually see fit to post my actual e-mail, as I expressly gave him permission to do.) So, feeling less than generous at that point, I replied to his request for documentation as follows:

From: Diana Hsieh
Date: Tue, 22 Apr 2008 06:40:31 -0600
To: M Renzulli
Subject: Re: My Objectivism 101 Lectures

You should have done your homework before you scheduled the event, e.g. by e-mailing me to inquire about any required permission. The fact that you failed to do so doesn’t oblige me to rush to get you the documentation at the last minute. I’m certainly not going to do so while you and your friends on Objectivist Living are attacking me left and right for the mere assertion of my rights and other imaginary moral evils.

So here’s what I’ll say:

(1) My TOC contract was standard: the rights reverted to me after two years, if TOC didn’t publish the lectures in some form other than “TOC Live.”. TOC didn’t do that, so the copyright is now held by me. You can inquire with TOC about that.

(2) The difference between listening rights and performance rights is well-established in copyright law. You’re playing my lecture at a public event in a public venue, advertised on the web to anyone and everyone, not at a private party for friends. You can inquire with a lawyer about that.


Since then, Mike has begun a new OL thread solely devoted to wild speculations about my psychology, without the slightest bit of concern for my actual and stated reasons for rejecting The Objectivist Center, condemning people like Nathaniel Branden and Chris Sciabarra, and now endorsing the Ayn Rand Institute. He likens me to a religious dogmatist and a communist enforcer. He claims that I’ve sold my soul for the cause. He claims that I’m seeking to appease the ARI hierarchy for the sake of publication venues and job opportunities. Um, okay.

Mike also sent me two further e-mails. He told me that he expects an apology from me if I’m wrong in my legal claims. He said he’ll do the same if he’s wrong, but given his absolutely libelous personal attacks on me on OL, that’s of no value whatsoever. He’s also suggested that I just ask him nicely not to play the lectures. Fat chance of that: I shouldn’t have to ask nicely for him to respect my rights, particularly not while he spits in my face. (Do I need to ask a car thief to please not take my car?!?)

In any case, yesterday afternoon, I finally dug up my old “Speaker’s Agreements” with The Objectivist Center. The following e-mail to the relevant folks at The Atlas Society explains the exact terms of the contract:

From: Diana Hsieh
Date: Wed, 23 Apr 2008 16:44:43 -0600
To: Gene Holloway , Ed Hudgins
Conversation: Termination of Rights to Lecture Recordings
Subject: Termination of Rights to Lecture Recordings

Ed and Gene –

Due to the plans of Mike Renzulli to play one of my past TOC lectures at a public event this week despite my protests, I recently reviewed my speaker’s agreements with TOC for lectures given in 2001, 2002, and 2003. (I could not find my contract for my 2000 lecture.)

Before I reviewed the contracts, my recollection was that all rights to the recording automatically reverted to me after two years, provided that TOC didn’t publish an official recording (as opposed to a “TOC Live” tape). However, that’s not quite accurate, as you can see from the following quoted clause:

“If TOC fails to produce or arrange the production of the Recording for use as a permanent product carried by The Objectivism Store within 24 months following the delivery of the Work, either party has the right to terminate this portion of the agreement. In case of termination of this agreement under this clause, all rights to the Recording, except the right of TOC to maintain a copy for archival purposes, revert to Speaker.”

(The same basic clause is found in my 2001 and 2002 contracts. I presume that it is also in my 2000 contract.)

So: I hereby terminate all of TOC’s (or The Atlas Society’s) rights to recordings of my past lectures, except the right to maintain a copy for archival purposes.

Obviously, I can’t imagine that you’d ever want to do anything with my past lectures for TOC, but I did wish to officially terminate your rights to them, in case such a strange situation ever arises again.

Also, I should mention that as far as I understand the contract, TOC has never had any right to license the work to be played in public. (As far as I know, you’ve not done that with Mike Renzulli.)

I have attached a scan of the relevant page of the 2003 contract.

Finally, please confirm your receipt of this e-mail and acknowledge the termination of rights.

Thank you,

Diana Mertz Hsieh

As for the question of rights to public performance, Paul found this handy summary of the relevant law (and this one and this one and this one and this one) for me. It’s very clear that an event open to the public, held in a public venue, and advertised on public message boards and web sites does not qualify as a private performance on par with inviting friends over to watch a movie.

Also, I should mention that I’ve spoken repeatedly with two lawyers about this matters over the past few days. Both of them used to speak at TOC, and so they are familiar with TOC’s “Speaker’s Agreements.” On both legal and moral grounds, they wholly support my right to refuse permission to play these lectures.

I don’t expect any further troubles on this issue — except more of the usual crap from OL — but I did wish to set the record straight. To put it bluntly, Mike Renzulli hasn’t a legal or moral leg to stand on. He doesn’t have the right to play my lectures before an audience just because he bought the tapes. I don’t have any obligation to assist a man who actively subverts my values. He’s also behaved in a less than gentleman-like fashion, without any provocation. Still, I won’t hold my breath waiting for that apology.

Update: On October 10, 2011, Mike posted a public apology. Thanks, Mike, that’s appreciated.

  • http://www.fija.org Jake Witmer

    Interesting. I’ve always been of the opinion that the primary problem with society were the greater than 90% of people who completely ignore or disagree with any concept of individual rights, rather than inconsistent libertarians who are somewhere around the 80% correct mark. But that’s just the reason I no longer call myself an objectivist, except to avoid long questioning from objectivists trying to figure out how I’m not an objectivist.

    I’m not an objectivist because although Ayn Rand was 100% right in her politics, some of the decisions she made about “inessentials” are now incorrectly taken by orthodox objectivists to be essentials. Also, by excluding religious people from political objectivism, the objectivists within the libertarian movement have doomed liberty itself in the USA. They’ve done this by lacking knowledge of the levellers (or cybernetic systems in general), and failing to realize that most people are at an intellectual level that is too low to adopt anti-theism. http://www.thedailybell.com/editorials/35710/Wendy-McElroy-Libertarianism-Is-Not-Atheist-Is-Not-Religious/

    At this point, I’d ecstatically support the level of freedom espoused by John Lilburne and William Penn, even if they weren’t leading anti-theists of their day. Then, as now, in most areas of the country, anti-theism is too rational to be adopted by an irrational voting majority.

    In any case, this “Copyright Claim” to me seems correct, but short-sighted. If I owned the lectures, I would have insisted that the person playing them hand out copies of my website, asking for donations if people feel that they were benefitted by the material. As it stands, people are now deprived of what might have been useful information.

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