Opinion, by Michael Royster

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – At the time of writing, the Brazilian Supreme Court (STF) is considering a lawsuit that seeks to declare unconstitutional two articles of the Brazilian Civil Code, which came into effect in 2003.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil news
The Curmudgeon, also known as Michael Royster.

Article 20 permits people to prohibit the publication, exposition or utilization of their image if it affects their “honor, good name or respectability”, or if it is “destined for commercial purposes”. Moreover, if the person in question is deceased, the spouse and other legal heirs can claim the same right.

Article 21 proclaims that the private life of an individual is inviolable, and a court may, upon request of the interested party, adopt those measures necessary to prevent or cease any action contrary to this rule.

A number of Brazilian authors and publishing houses are interested in publishing, for commercial purposes, biographies of famous Brazilians, alive and/or dead. The way the law now stands, they have to submit their biography to the persons they are depicting, or to their heirs, and obtain their approval.

In other words, an “unauthorized” biography cannot be published. For many years, Roberto Carlos has prevented a biography of himself from being published, because he doesn’t like what the biographer said, or perhaps the way he said it. Similarly, the heirs of Garrincha, one of Brazil’s most famous footballers, have prevented publication of his biography, because it depicts (accurately) his horrible private life. The heirs of Cazuza, a prematurely deceased rock star, have already stated they’re not going to let anybody print anything they don’t like, and his private life was, if possible, more scandalous than Garrincha’s.

The problem is that the “private” life of these personages has never been “private”. All of them are hugely recognized public figures, who have long encouraged publicity about themselves, pictures and articles and all the rest. In the case of Garrincha and Cazuza, chemical dependency killed them slowly but manifested itself publicly; newspapers were filled with stories of their descent into death.

Apparently newspapers and television are free to divulge these things, but biographers are not. Why not? Because publishing houses are commercial enterprises, they’re just in it for the money — or so the offended put it. Newspapers and television are also in it for the money, of course, and Roberto Carlos is what he is for the money, so, in the Curmudgeon’s opinion, money shouldn’t count.

Is this censorship? The publishers say “yes it is” because it prohibits press freedom. The censors say “no it’s not” because it’s editing, just like the publishing houses themselves do to ensure they’re not libelous. Who’s right? Who knows?

In the U.S., there was an immense brouhaha when Jacqueline Kennedy, who had authorized William Manchester to do a biography of her late husband Jack, insisted on the right to prevent him from putting some of their private lives (e.g. the fact that she smoked) into the book. Her reasoning? “They’re in it for the money.” After negotiations were fruitless, Jackie sued for an injunction, but the public opprobrium she received was so great that she settled the day before the trial, and the book was published, warts and all.

In Brazil, it would not have been published.

Whose side are you on?


Michael Royster, aka THE CURMUDGEON first saw Rio forty-plus years ago, fetched up on these shores exactly 36 years ago, still loves it, notwithstanding being a charter member of the most persecuted minority in (North) America today, the WASPs (google it!)(get over it!)


  1. I think you hit the nail on the head when you say there “private” lives where never private. These gentlemen lived their entire lives as public figures and capitalized on that status. They or their families were never consulted or asked to give permission for newspaper articles or television appearances, why should they be consulted when someone is writing a respectable and accurate biography about them? It’s a consequence of being a public figure. I don’t think it’s libelous if it’s true, I don’t think these people or their families should have the ability to stop biographies being published, and I think the STF should remove the articles in question.


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