Dishing the Dirt II

Burlington Police Department responds to Techdirt.com article based on my blog post re: failed attempt to censor news stories about arrests, insists someone is pretending to abuse copyright law to protect reputation

Last week, I blogged about a DMCA/copyright complaint filed by so-called legal agent’ Mike Ferrell who claimed to represent the Burlington, Massachusetts Police Department, demanding that Google remove news stories because it violated the copyright the police department held on certain mugshots.

When I passed the story on to Techdirt.com, I was awaiting a response from the Burlington PD to my request for comment. Over the weekend, the department contacted Techdirt.com putting the record straight.

Via “Burlington Police Insist Someone Is Pretending To Abuse Copyright Law To Censor News Stories About Arrests” by Mike Masnick, November 21, 2016.

Mike Kent, the Chief of Police in Burlington reached out to us over the weekend to let us know that whoever sent the notices, it was not his department. He says they have no one working for them by the name of Mike Ferrell, and that the Burlington PD “has no issues whatsoever with these mugshots being used.”

So… that leaves open the question of just who is impersonating the Burlington Police Department, and filing completely bogus DMCA notices in an attempt to censor news stories. It would seem that the most obvious options are those who were featured in those stories about arrests in Burlington. The very first notice that Ferrell sent, focused on stories about a particular prostitution sting, and named the nine men who were arrested, along with mugshots. It would seem that perhaps one (or more!) of those nine men would have pretty strong incentives to seek to have those stories deleted from Google.

Either way, we’ve been pointing out for years that copyright is an easy tool for censorship — and here’s yet another example. If you want something censored, just try to work out a copyright connection of some sort. In this case, it appears to have failed, but mostly because whoever filed it wasn’t very good at pretending to work for the police.

Andrew Quemere, a public records enthusiast and journalist for digboston.com, has posted a separate response from Kent, stating that he believes the complaint “was filed under a false name by a man who was arrested in a prostitution sting several years ago and who has hounded me because his photo is still on the Internet.”

If this is the case, the perpetrator has succeeded only in attracting attention to his arrest.

The term for this, coined by Masnick himself, is the Streisand Effect, referring to a 2003 story about Barbra Streisand’s failed lawsuit to have a fairly inconspicuous photo of her Malibu coastal home removed from the Internet.

Prior to Streisand filing the lawsuit, the photo had been viewed six times (twice by her own lawyers). Following the news of the lawsuit, it had accumulated around 420,000 views. The photo is currently featured prominently on Wikipedia’s dedicated Streisand Effect page.

It will be interesting to see if Mr. Ferrell files any further complaints with Google.

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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.

Down by [Copyright] Law

Are Massachusetts cops trying to censor local journalists?

Earlier this month, ‘legal agent’ Mike Ferrell filed a copyright complaint with Google¹ on behalf of the Burlington Police Department, in Massachusetts, requesting the deletion of a number of local news articles regarding arrests made by the department.

In his November 8, 2016 request, Ferrell claimed that the mugshots used in the articles were “infringing our Copyright since these photographs/images are our property.”

Ferrell’s complaint, via Lumen Database:

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.

Today, I e-mailed Michael Kent, Chief of Police of the Burlington Police Department, to inquire about Ferrell’s complaint re: whether or not booking records taken prior to criminal proceedings are public domain in Massachusetts; and if the use of mugshots in this context – namely, journalists reporting on crime – is considered fair useStay tuned.

¹To date, Ferrell has filed five DMCA complaints, covering a total of 30 news articles, on behalf of Burlington police.