I'm reading the Anti-Tech Revolution by Ted Kaczynski, the following is noted in the front matter:

Theodore John Kaczynski does not receive any remuneration for this book

This led me to wonder, what are the regulations behind taking commissions when writing from prison in US, or was it the authors choice?

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    Is the question specific to books about/related to the crime or circumstances? If Ted wrote a book on "classical guitar fingering" would that make a difference?
    – Criggie
    Jun 29, 2021 at 18:10
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    I didn't really have it in mind when I wrote the question, I guess they maybe subcases are you've remarked. @Criggie Jun 29, 2021 at 20:11

4 Answers 4


While a convicted felon can legally receive royalties for writing about his crime (in light of the unconstitutionality of Son of Sam laws), a court can also order seizure of assets for victim restitution. Thus the case of US v. Kaczynski where the 9th Circuit upheld a plea deal that included a restitution provision of $15,026,000. The federal government wanted to just take his writings, he sued to have them returned, he prevailed. The court noted (fn. 13) that

Any effort by Kaczynski to publish or otherwise profit from this property following any return to him will, of course, remain subject to the $15 million restitution lien.

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    Interesting. If the proceeds from this book are paying off that lien, would it really be accurate to say he's not receiving any remuneration?
    – bdb484
    Jun 28, 2021 at 21:12
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    @bdb484 I would say the best way to think of it is garnished wages.
    – corsiKa
    Jun 29, 2021 at 3:04
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    That's what I'm thinking of, as well, but if X owes Y a debt, paying off that debt for him is generally considered compensation.
    – bdb484
    Jun 29, 2021 at 5:32
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    I feel like the specifics of the situation matter a bit. Given the size of the lien, the lack of any possibility the author will ever get out of prison, and the unlikely prospect that his writings will result in anything remotely close to $15 million in royalties, it seems reasonable that chipping away at that lien bit by bit won't result in any change to his life. A different situation where the debt might actually have some chance of being paid off could make the statement be more inaccurate. Jun 29, 2021 at 6:20
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    So basically he gets royalties/commission as any other write. But he has been convicted to pay the State 15+ million, so the State gets first dibs on any income he earns.
    – Tonny
    Jun 29, 2021 at 8:27


The First Amendment protects freedom of speech, and there is no exception for speech about crimes for which the author is incarcerated.

Other answers suggest that inmates cannot profit from writing about the crimes for which they are being punished, but it has been more than 30 years since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that these "Son of Sam" laws are unconstitutional:

We conclude simply that, in the Son of Sam law, New York has singled out speech on a particular subject for a financial burden that it places on no other speech and no other income. The State's interest in compensating victims from the fruits of crime is a compelling one, but the Son of Sam law is not narrowly tailored to advance that objective. As a result, the statute is inconsistent with the First Amendment.

Simon Schuster v. Crime Victims Bd., 502 U.S. 105, 123 (1991).

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    There are, however, laws that make it easier for victims to sue criminals for any money they might earn from their notoriety. New York passed such a law in 2001 after the Simon & Schuster v. Crime Victims Bd. decision. Jun 28, 2021 at 18:54
  • Does the first amendment protect money transfers and bank balances?
    – user253751
    Jun 29, 2021 at 16:57
  • From government-backed inteference on the basis of speech? Yes.
    – bdb484
    Jun 29, 2021 at 17:44
  • @bdb484 what does that even mean? "On the basis of speech?" The person is hypothetically not getting any money because they committed a crime, not because of something they said.
    – user253751
    Jun 30, 2021 at 15:30
  • It's because of both. People can put money on Kaczynski's commissary or he can win the lottery, and the the government has no special interest in those transfers. Son of Sam laws purport to assert an interest in transfers of money in exchange for speech about his crimes. They effectively impose a tax on a specific category of speech: writings about crimes for which the author has been convicted. The government can't tax speech on that topic any more than it could impose a tax on the New York Times for writing about government misconduct.
    – bdb484
    Jun 30, 2021 at 17:37

Yes, inmates can write books in prison. Inmates can also publish books and profit from those books in prison as long as they follow the rules of the institution and as long as the books are not related to the crime for which they are serving time.

According to Writingbeginner.com You can write and publish books for a profit as long as it complies with the prison/jail's guidelines.

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    This is an underappreciated answer: normal, non-notorious criminals without restitution liens can profit from books written about subjects other than their crimes.
    – RonJohn
    Jun 29, 2021 at 2:55

Laws like these are generally called "Son of Sam" laws and are named after serial killer David Berkowitz, who went by the alias "Son of Sam" while taunting the police about his crimes. On arrest, many feared Berkowitz would try to get a book deal to sell the story of his crime spree as told by him and New York State quickly passed the first "Son of Sam" law in the nation.

Son of Sam laws target notorious criminals who have become infamous from the press attention they offer. Under U.S. law, you are not allowed to profit from crimes. But most laws were written to seize money and items used to generate illegal profits. No one had anticipated a criminal of notoriety writing a book, or selling movie rights, or giving exclusive interviews after arrest and conviction.

It's also important to note that Son of Sam laws are not universal. Some states have them and others do not. In so far as I'm aware, writing a book about your crime in Nevada for profit is still legal (Though last word I had is early-mid 2000s).

  • Yes, That is true, But really it depends on the area hes in. If hes in the US, then they might either split it, or give it all to the inmate depending on the crimes he committed. Jun 28, 2021 at 13:05
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    It seems like it would be worth mentioning that the Supreme Court struck down the Son of Sam law as First Amendment violation.
    – bdb484
    Jun 28, 2021 at 18:11
  • @bdb484 Actually has an excellent point there. Sep 17, 2021 at 14:20

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