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September 30, 2007

If I Paid It …

How much did it cost to get O.J. Simpson to (hypothetically) confess to the 1994 murders of Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman? According to News Corp, O.J. was paid an $880,000 advance for the book and a companion interview. (Simpson says that the money’s gone, used to pay bills and taxes. A court placed whatever’s left on hold.) Of course, News Corp’s actual costs for the confession were much higher—having to pay for the production and destruction of 400,000 copies of the original version of If I Did It, as well costs for the TV interview (never aired).

Who gets the proceeds? Under a deal struck in bankruptcy court, the family of Ron Goldman--who won a $33.5 million judgment (so far uncollected) against Simpson—gets 90 percent of the book profits and the remaining 10 per cent goes to a group of O.J.'s creditors. In what some may consider poetic justice, the 10 percent creditors includes several attorneys: a former Simpson attorney ($15,000); another attorney ($20,000); and a pair of law firms ($300,000). Other creditor’s include the book's ghostwriter ($350,000) and Simpson’s ex-in-laws, the Brown family ($24 million).

Why didn't Nicole Simpson's family get more? The Brown Family objected to the settlement and sued for the right to bid on the book. But their claim was denied because they planned to kill the book, not “maximize the sale of the asset” as ordered by the bankruptcy court. The result: one victim’s family gets 90 percent of the profits and the other gets less than 10 percent.

How much will the confession earn? First month's sales of If I Did It were 42,000 copies (Bookscan) and assuming, (hypothetically, of course) that there is a $10 profit per book, the Goldmans have earned about $378,000 and the other creditors (the lawyers, the ghostwriter, and the Browns) have earned about $42,000. If all 200,000 copies of the book eventually sell, then O.J.'s confession would generate $1.8 million for the Goldmans and $200,000 for the lawyers and the Browns. Of course, one of the nice things about acquiring the book in bankruptcy court is that there is no advance to be repaid to HarperCollins.

What about the Son of Sam laws? Back in the 1970s, New York legislators became upset when David Berkowitz -- the "Son of Sam" killer -- was reportedly working on a book about his crimes. That spurred passage of state laws (known as "Son of Sam" laws) that allowed a state to seize publishing money earned by convicted criminals and use that money to compensate the criminal's victims. The New York law was later declared unconstitutional but newer ones, avoiding some of the first amendment issues, have been passed (at least temporarily). California's revised version was struck down in 2002. Of course, a Son of Sam law would not have benefited the victims of the 1994 Brentwood murders since the killer -- as O.J. maintains -- has never been caught. No problem -- the Goldman family has forged a new paradigm for victim compensation in which everyone (including the lawyers, the victims, and even the perp's ghostwriter) can line up for payment.