There’s a ‘Son of Sam law’ which stops serial killers making money from their stories
It came after David Berkowitz sold exclusive rights to his
Last week, Netflix released a four-part docuseries about the case of serial killer David Berkowitz. What you might not have learned from the Netflix documentary, is that following this case there is now a law in place in some US states which actively prevents serial killers and other criminals being able to profit from their stories. This would include things like money from true crime documentaries, and the law was put into place after the Son of Sam murders.
In the summer of 1976 in New York, a serial killer was on the loose. Over a year after his first crime, David Berkowitz would be found to be the man who killed six people and wounded seven others. The documentary looks at the city at the time of the killings, and the following investigation of journalist Maury Terry – who believed Berkowitz did not act alone and was instead part of a cult. However, Berkowitz is now in prison, and remains to be the only person charged in the case.
Here’s a full explainer of the Son of Sam law, and exactly what it means.
The Son of Sam law is in place to stop criminals profiting from their cases
The Son of Sam law is also known as a notoriety-for-profit law or New York Executive Law Section 632a, and it stops criminals from being able to profit on the stories of their crimes. The money criminals make from their cases often comes from selling the rights to their “stories” to publishers, such as book and film deals.
The law is defined as having the aim to “prevent those accused or convicted of a crime from profiting from the commercial exploitation of their crimes by contracting for the production of books, movies, magazine articles, television shows and the like in which their crime is reenacted” or in which the “person’s thoughts, feelings, opinions or emotions” about the crime are shown.
These laws often allow the state to take the money which has been earned from the deals and paid interviews, and instead use it to compensate the criminal’s victims. However, there have been arguments against the law – with some people saying it breaches freedom of speech and that the law takes away the incentive to share stories which often come with huge public interest.
As a result of this, the law in New York was revisited and in 2001 a new Son of Sam law was introduced, which requires victims of crimes to be notified whenever a person convicted receives $10,000 or more from any source. The victims then have an extended amount of time to sue the criminal in question.
According to Freedom Forum Institute, 45 US states currently have active Son of Sam statues.
The law started after the Son of Sam case with David Berkowitz
The first law of this type was after David Berkowitz was found to be notorious serial killer the “Son of Sam” in New York. The case drew huge media interest, and it was immediately believed that Berkowitz would sell his story to a writer or filmmaker. When Berkowitz sold exclusive rights to his story, New York state passed preemptive legal statutes and it became the first legal restriction of its kind in America.
The original New York law was invoked in the city eleven times between 1977 and 1990, including once most notably against Mark David Chapman, who is the murderer of musician John Lennon. The law can also be extended to the criminal’s friends, family, neighbours and anyone close to them who might seek to profit by telling their story in relation to the crimes.
More recently, the law is reportedly being invoked in the german heiress fraud scheme case of Anna Delvey, saying she shouldn’t be paid by Netflix for a coming television series based on her life story called Inventing Anna.
The Sons of Sam: A Descent Into Darkness is available on Netflix now. For all the latest Netflix news, drops, quizzes and memes like The Holy Church of Netflix on Facebook.