EFF Sues California Law Enforcement Training Entity Over Its BS Use Of Copyright Law To Deny Public Records Requests
from the conveniently-invoked-IP-rights dept
Following the passage of a law that finally made lots of documentation related to police misconduct publicly accessible in California, the requests for information began pouring in. Some law enforcement agencies complied. Others sued. The state Attorney General showed the public how much they mattered by siding with the secretive agencies.
The entity behind the standards for law enforcement training in the state — Police Officers Standards and Training (POST) — was supposed to post its training materials publicly in response to the new law. But it found a convenient out: copyright law. It claimed the company that produced its training materials on everything from ALPR readers to deployment of facial recognition tech refused to allow its copyrighted material to be posted publicly.
This was obviously a load of crap. Copyright law does not forbid the publication of public interest documents by the agencies that utilize them. Allowing the public to view and download the documents does not destroy the market for law enforcement training materials. This was obviously nothing more than a convenient way to avoid complying with the new public records law.
Making this even stupider was the fact the EFF had already obtained a copy of POST ALPR training materials through a public records request. That copyrighted material had already been “distributed” to outsiders, all without putting POST or the EFF on the wrong side of IP law.
This bullshit is probably going to end up costing the state’s taxpayers. The EFF is suing POST over this convenient kowtowing to meaningless copyright claims.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) sued the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) to obtain materials showing how police are trained in the use of force, after the organization cited third-party copyright interests to illegally withhold them from the public.
The lawsuit, filed under California’s Public Records Act (PRA), seeks a court order forcing POST to make public unredacted copies of outlines for a number of police training courses, including training on use of force. As the country struggles to process the many painful-to-watch examples of extensive and deadly use of force by police, Californians have a right to know what officers are being trained to do, and how they are being trained.
As the lawsuit [PDF] points out, the state has directly — through legislation — ordered the release of this material. And that mandate contains nothing saying “unless copyright protections are invoked.”
SB 978 mandates that, as of January 2020, “the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training and each local law enforcement agency shall conspicuously post on their Internet Web sites all current standards, policies, practices, operating procedures, and education and training materials that would otherwise be available to the public if a request was made pursuant to the California Public Records Act.”
And who is the private entity invoking copyright law to avoid complying with the law? Well, it’s none other than the state’s largest pro-police lobbying group, the California Peace Officers’ Association. When not misapplying the law to prevent the public from knowing more about their public servants, the CPOA is acting against the public’s interest by opposing legislation affecting everything from marijuana legalization to sentence reductions for nonviolent crimes to facial recognition tech bans.
Even if the CPOA is right about copyright law (and it isn’t), fair use covers both the distribution of the material by POST and any further publications by recipients like the EFF.
First, the purpose of POST’s use—to comply with the CPRA’s transparency requirements—would be a non-commercial, transformative use in service of the public interest. Second, the ECO is a primarily factual work, subject to thinnest copyright protection. Third, sharing the complete, unredacted ECO is necessary to achieve meaningful transparency and educate the public. Fourth, POST’s use of the ECO would not harm the market for CPOA’s training materials.
Once again, it’s copyright acting as a convenient censor. Hopefully, the court will see it for what it is and direct POST to stop screwing around and hand over the training materials to the EFF and publish them to the POST website. If the EFF succeeds (and it should), it will be the public sector forced to pay for the CPOA’s censorial actions. While CPOA may be a private entity, it’s the state’s law enforcement training entity that’s being sued. Maybe the state’s residents will realize POST could have blown off the lobbying association without worrying about being sued for copyright infringement and respond accordingly — possibly by stripping the funding headed to the CPOA to produce training materials or rerouting it to another agency that’s not going to pretend federal copyright law mandates non-compliance with state transparency laws.