Dishing the Dirt

Techdirt.com publishes article based on my blog post re: failed attempt to censor journalists reporting on crime in Massachusetts

Yesterday, Techdirt.com founder/editor Mike Masnick – and, incidentally, the man who coined the term the “Streisand effect” – wrote an article based on my November 18, 2016 item which asked whether Massachusetts cops had tried to censor journalists reporting on local crime.

Via “Massachusetts Police Dept. Files DMCA Takedowns On News Stories Using Mugshots Taken By Police” by Mike Masnick, Techdirt.com, November 18, 2016.

from the copyright-as-censorship dept

Here we are with yet another example of copyright as censorship. This one comes from the Shooting the Messenger blog, which dug up a fascinating story of how the Burlington, Massachusetts Police Department appears to be abusing copyright law to try to censor articles written about people they’ve arrested. Specifically, a representative from the police department has filed a bunch of DMCA notices with Google, targeting around 30 news stories, claiming the Police Department holds the copyright on the mugshots used in those stories. You can see one of the notices over at the Lumen Database, and you’ll quickly notice that it’s not like they’re targeting fly-by-night websites, but all sorts of big name press outfits, including CBS, the Boston Herald and the Denver Post.

And:

Now, as we’ve discussed in the past, works of the federal government are simply not subject to copyright law. When it moves down to the states, it’s either not entirely clear or subject to specific state laws. And in Massachusetts, the rule is that “records created by governments are not copyrighted and are available for public use.” Separately, in Massachusetts, it’s been determined that mugshots are public records, meaning that the police department has even less control here. And of course, even if these images were subject to copyright protections, their use in reporting would clearly be fair use.

Assuming that [complainant] Mike Ferrell actually represents the Burlington Police Department, it appears that he and the police department are flagrantly violating the law in an attempt to censor news stories in the public interest. If he doesn’t represent the Burlington Police Department, he’s also misrepresenting himself, and potentially committing perjury, as an official DMCA notice requires stating, under the penalty of perjury, that you’re authorized on behalf of the copyright holder.

No matter what… something not good is happening here, and it’s yet another in an increasingly long list of examples of censorship by copyright.

On that last point, it’s standard for Google to highlight where it suspects a complainant to be “an impostor or someone else abusing the [DMCA] process.” That didn’t happen here, so for now I’ll take it on good faith that the complaint is the real deal.

In any case, I’ve asked the Burlington PD to comment. Stay tuned.

See also: Down by [Copyright] Law, my November 18, 2016 article re: failed attempt to censor journalists reporting on crime in Massachusetts.

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