A man makes a living videotaping extensive interviews with nursing home residents, then selling them to the survivors for a high sum of money when the subject dies. If the survivors balk, he tells them he is running low on disk space and will have to erase the recording if they don't want it. Is this Jewishly ethical or an excellent idea? The interviews are not commissioned by anybody, but the subjects are eager to talk and tell their stories.

(This is a subplot of the Israeli serial Shtisel, now showing on Netflix.)

  • 2
    I see a few legal issues here (under American law, at least) so I am having trouble with the hypothetical.
    – rosends
    Jan 23 '19 at 20:17
  • If the survivors ultimately don’t buy (into) it does he really erase the recordings?
    – Oliver
    Jan 23 '19 at 20:40
  • 2
    Is this so different than the pictures they take of you on a rollercoaster and try to sell to you afterwards? (But it does sound nasty to make a business out of this)
    – user6591
    Jan 23 '19 at 20:48
  • @Oliver -- In the movie at least, he DOES erase the recordings after only a few days! Jan 23 '19 at 21:09
  • 3
    @MauriceMizrahi Ah, so fair opportunism :) Sounds like business as usual. Like the type that wait for opportune wayfarers (either at an amusement park ride, the Western Wall, a famous rabbi or whatever), snap your photo and then offer to sell it to you.
    – Oliver
    Jan 24 '19 at 1:24

As usual, we mess with two different angles here:

  1. Monetary wise:

    • if there's a written contract covering the rights on the tape and its content, the inheritors can claim nothing against. One can write a biography, make a documentary etc.

    • if there's no contract, its rights should be checked out according to Din Torah and Dina Demalchuta (I suppose it's a very controversial issue).

    • we hold that there's no monetary fraud (אונאה) on personal belongings, so one can demand any price for his tapes. Though some say, like in real estate, doubling the regular price might be considered אונאה.

  2. "Midos wise":

    • Theoretically, we can follow the general rule of the Fathers (3, 10):
      "וכל שאין רוח הבריות נוחה הימנו, אין רוח המקום נוחה הימנו".

    • Therefore he could easily be transgressing: "ואהבת לרעך כמוך", "לפני עוור לא תתן מכשול", if it contains sensitive or very personal material "לא תלך רכיל בעמך"

    • There's also a "spiritual part" of the transgression of אונאת ממון, meaning that if the price is excessive, even if the other party agreed to pay, one is sinning of אונאה, especially when it is kind of "לא תעמוד על דם רעך" (pushing one to the corner).

The later depends both on one's intentions and the other part's acceptance. If the producer has no evil intentions and the buyers are happy to pay, I see no possible impediment.

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