Updated! Massachusetts Police Dept. Files DMCA Takedowns On News Stories Using Mugshots Taken By Police
from the copyright as censorship dept
Update: We’ve written up a followup to this post, noting that the Chief of Police in Burlington insists that this was not done by them, and they have no problem with the press using these images. It would appear that someone else is abusing copyright law to try to block these stories — and since the stories are about people being arrested, it’s not hard to put together a list of people with motives to abuse copyright law in this manner. Please read the follow up post, before reading this original post below.
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.
The explanation given is pretty silly too in that it’s barely comprehensible:
Good afternoon My name is Mike Ferrell. I am the agent legal from the Burlington Police Department (Intellectual Property, Piracy, Copyright/DMCA) located in Massachusetts. I inform you that the infringing content in question awarded or issued previously are infringing our Copyright since these photographs/images are our property, is fully belonging to us. We are the properties, authors or creators of the content that previously indicated content and request of immediate actions appropriate or respective. We need it more soon as possible relevant/correct actions/measures are taken as more before possible, or otherwise we proceed to take action on our own. Thanks circumvention content: http://www.burlingtonpolice.org/Arrest-of-two-men-in-death-of-woman.html http://www.burlingtonpolice.org/Three-man-arrested-in-connection-with-string-of-store-jewelry-robberies.html http://www.burlingtonpolice.org/Nine-arrested-in-sting-operation.html http://www.burlingtonpolice.org/Teens-arrested-in-mosque-vandalism-incident.html http://www.burlingtonpolice.org/Eight-arrested-in-prostitution-sweep.html http://www.burlingtonpolice.org/Seven-johns-charged-in-reverse-prostitution-sting.html circumvention mechanism: Providing photographies/images protected for us.
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 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.