Forbes Smiley Case: More on the British Library’s Brief

The Guardian adds to the coverage of the British Library’s brief asking for a harsher penalty for Forbes Smiley (see previous entry).

I must confess to some misgivings about the ferociousness of the libraries’ response to Mr. Smiley. He’s already facing five to six years in jail, on top of $1.8 million in restitution and 97 maps returned — and that’s with him cooperating. Adding two to three years, as the brief asks for, seems insufficiently meaningful — we’re not talking about 60 days vs. two years, for example. The penalty is qualitatively severe: there are people committing serious and violent crimes who face less. And I worry that harsher penalties, while satisfying the desire for exemplary punishment, will deter cooperation, and the point, I think, is to get as many maps back as possible.

If he’s not cooperating enough, then the libraries must prove it; they can hardly convict him on the basis of their suspicions, and cannot put the question (in the ancien régime sense) to confirm those suspicions. Fortunately, Goldman’s brief does not go down this route — it’s the public utterances that I find problematic.

I appreciate the frustration, but, you know, he was caught. He is going to jail. He has returned maps. He is paying restitution. The rest is quibbling over details. Important details, when each missing map is of immense value, but details nonetheless.

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