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Collateral Censorship: Oxford Union Replaces Assange Speech Backdrop, Citing 'Copyright' Concerns

from the wrong-on-so-many-levels dept

Julian Assange recently gave an address, by video, to the Oxford Union Society. You can see a video of the whole thing here. When Assange is speaking, here's what you see:
The background, you can see, is just an enlarged image of the Oxford Union logo. But that's not what Assange actually had behind him. According to Wikileaks, Assange purposely had put up a still image from the "collateral murder" video that Wikileaks had released, showing US soldiers firing on a Reuters journalist and some other civilians in Iraq. The plan, according to Assange, was to use that image "to highlight the importance of whistleblowers" to get out information such as that video.

It's bad enough that the Oxford Union digitally replaced the backdrop. However, even worse is the ridiculous excuse it gave. In response to Wikileaks' accusations, the Oxford Union claimed it replaced the image because it didn't want to violate the copyright in the video:
After taking extensive legal advice on this matter, the Union was advised not to display the background video in question for copyright reasons.
This is bogus on so many levels. First off, and most importantly, the video itself is a "work" of the US government, and as such is simply not protected by copyright law. Rather it is definitively in the public domain as per Section 105 of the Copyright Act. And, of course, even if it was subject to copyright, it would still be a ridiculous claim. There would be obvious fair use in merely showing a single still image from a longer video, especially given the context of the use and the speech. And, yes, this is in the UK, rather than the US, but even under UK "fair dealing" concepts, this would almost certainly be considered fair dealing.

Ridiculously, when Wikileaks explained this to the Oxford Union, it shot back with an even more confused response, focusing on the fact that nothing was "censored" and that this was all about "respecting copyright."
We would like to point out that none of the speeches made during the evening in question were 'censored'; neither was any part of the Q&A sessions.

Mr Assange's speech was broadcast in its entirety, and as such we would encourage people to appreciate the distinction between censorship and respecting copyright.
Except, that's not true. As Wikileaks has made clear, the image was an important part of the expression he was making -- and just because you use a visual, that does not mean that it does not count as a form of speech. But the bigger joke is the idea that this has anything, whatsoever, to do with "respecting" copyright. If you "respect" copyright, you understand the difference between what's in the public domain and what's not, and you don't claim you blocked public domain material to respect the copyright. That's the opposite of respecting copyright. It's bastardizing copyright for the purpose of stifling expression.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    icon
    Josh in CharlotteNC (profile), Feb 4th, 2013 @ 11:39am

    Definitions

    What's in a name, or the meaning of a word?

    Perhaps the Oxford Union should look up "entirety" in the Oxford English Dictionary before they say anything else.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    Skeptical Cynic (profile), Feb 4th, 2013 @ 11:45am

    Mike, Mike,... You are confused...

    Copyright is a very complex legal and ethical line. Few people or organizations are willing to try and cross the line.

    So the case of better safe than sorry is not a bad thing...Since nothing will be gained by just agreeing or not.

    Or we could just say we try to not violate copyright but if we do you get $1. Period.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 4th, 2013 @ 12:01pm

    Oxford might have a point if you replace "respecting" copyright with "fearing" copyright....

    I'm sure the US Government (or some interested 3rd party) would file a DMCA takedown notice to censor the video on the grounds of copyright over the image.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Feb 4th, 2013 @ 12:03pm

    Re: Mike, Mike,... You are confused...

    But this is one of the cases where the copyright situation is very clear. Showing the image would not have been a copyright violation, period.

     

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  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 4th, 2013 @ 12:05pm

    Re:

    Yes, but legally-speaking, it has no legal authority to do so, as all Government-created works are automatically public domain, under US law.

     

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  6.  
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    Skeptical Cynic (profile), Feb 4th, 2013 @ 12:11pm

    Re: Re: Mike, Mike,... You are confused...

    I agree!!!

    I was just raising the stupidness of current law.

     

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  7.  
    identicon
    A Cambridge Student, Feb 4th, 2013 @ 12:21pm

    Correction

    This article is just wrong. The Oxford Union DID play the video in full - backdrop included - live at the event, but the video they uploaded onto their YouTube site had the background removed, and their logo put in its place.

    Get your facts right, then do the journalism.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
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    ComputerAddict (profile), Feb 4th, 2013 @ 12:21pm

    Re: Re:

    But "legally-speaking" US Govt are not going to use DMCA...

    They will just say "this is a matter of National Security.... We're taking your personal computer, any computer on campus that may contain a portion of the streamed clip in their cache, and just because we can, all the YouTube Servers as a punishment for your heinous crimes."

     

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  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 4th, 2013 @ 12:29pm

    Oxford students only have 2 carrer options:

    Politicians and Lawyers.
    SO what do you expect - fairness?

     

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  10.  
    identicon
    cpt kangarooski, Feb 4th, 2013 @ 12:31pm

    No, they have a point. 17 USC 105 is a statute concerning US copyright law. The Oxford Union is, I would imagine, in the UK. Section 105 doesn't mean crap for them. What matters is whether there is a copyright under UK law. Probably, there is.

    Remember, there's no such thing as international copyright law. All the treaties do is impose requirements for the parties to enact appropriate legislation in their own jurisdictions, which will inescapably be national in nature. Whether the US has successfully disclaimed, or even could possibly disclaim (are they even the UK rightsholder?), copyright in the UK is up to the British, really, as is the question of whether they would want to grant a copyright to begin with.

     

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  11.  
    identicon
    Spaceman Spiff, Feb 4th, 2013 @ 12:34pm

    Shame on Oxford

    This is outrageous! If there was ever a better example of "fair user" I haven't seen it! Shame on you, Oxford! Maybe Cambridge can do better?

     

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  12.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 4th, 2013 @ 12:35pm

    more than anything, what this action shows is exactly how absolutely shit scared almost everyone is of violating copyright. yet again, the situation would not have arisen, had politicians done what they should have decades ago. instead of taking all the 'encouragements' offered by the likes of the entertainment industries and doing whatever they could to 'help their powerful friends', they had not allowed the ridiculous assertions made by those industries to transpire, then grow to the level of ridiculousness we have today, the truth or nearer to it, would be distributed.

     

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  13.  
    identicon
    Kam Solusar, Feb 4th, 2013 @ 12:43pm

    Re:

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 4th, 2013 @ 12:47pm

    Re: Mike, Mike,... You are confused...

    So the case of better safe than sorry is not a bad thing.


    It is what those who would censor speech want, as it makes it easy to abuse copyright to censor speech.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 4th, 2013 @ 12:53pm

    Maybe Ozford will offer a new class, (Copyright Law:and Abuse Of).

     

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  16.  
    icon
    weneedhelp (profile), Feb 4th, 2013 @ 1:03pm

    Re: Correction

    Don't teach reading comprehension there at Cambridge huh?

    "The Oxford Union DID play the video in full - backdrop included - live at the event, but the video they uploaded onto their YouTube site had the background removed, and their logo put in its place." - So they censored it for the public. Got it.

    "But that's not what Assange actually had behind him." - Implying it was shown at the live event.

    How did you get into Oxford? Daddy must know someone.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    identicon
    dev, Feb 4th, 2013 @ 1:04pm

    Embrace, extend, extinguish

    Imaging the future:
    I'll just replace this image with MY copyrighted/trademarked image, now I can control the distribution of this video.

    Take down this video, it has my IP in it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 4th, 2013 @ 1:27pm

    Re: Re:

    I don't think this is a question of copyright at all. I think the brits were simply scared of US retribution if they had shown the still. Looking stupid to the few actually understanding how ridiculous the messsage was, has probably been weighed against US anger.

    Let's face it: Copyright is so complex internationally that nobody understands the sum of the restrictions (fair uses do not count internationally since they are different from country to country and the sum of 0 fair use in the field multiplied by the others fair use is zero). It is being misunderstood or intentionally abused as an excuse for just about anything today.

    "Sorry I have a bad case of headache. I think I am coming down with a bad case of Copyright!"

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
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    jameshogg (profile), Feb 4th, 2013 @ 1:29pm

    I really do not like Julian Assange whatsoever. But of course, I also despise copyright law and this instance is one reason why.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    Pixelation, Feb 4th, 2013 @ 1:36pm

    "That's the opposite of respecting copyright. It's bastardizing copyright for the purpose of stifling expression."

    What else would you expect from a university named after a shirt?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    identicon
    Rekrul, Feb 4th, 2013 @ 1:45pm

    Re: Mike, Mike,... You are confused...

    Copyright is a very complex legal and ethical line. Few people or organizations are willing to try and cross the line.

    So the case of better safe than sorry is not a bad thing...Since nothing will be gained by just agreeing or not.


    Yeah! It's not like they'd have anyone at one of the world's oldest and most prestigious schools who would be capable of figuring out the copyright status of an image/video recording!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    Rekrul, Feb 4th, 2013 @ 1:46pm

    If you watch the video, when it shows shots of the live panel, a moving video image can be seen behind Assange on the monitors.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 4th, 2013 @ 1:50pm

    Re:

    There was an argument floating around for a while that works of the U.S. Government were still protected by copyright in foreign countries. I heard a rumor that Copyright Office was exploiting this to charge for its catalog outside of the U.S. Conceptually, this could turn on the law of each individual country in which the copyright is to be enforced.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    icon
    DannyB (profile), Feb 4th, 2013 @ 1:51pm

    Re: Re:

    Yes, it is about fearing copyright. Since when does the US Government care about "legally-speaking"?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 4th, 2013 @ 2:00pm

    Copyright *is* censorship.

    I'm not really surprised. The origins of copyright date back to the era of the printing press, and reason for copyright back then was for censorship.

    For the first time in history, it was relatively easy for people to disseminate information widely, and the Powers That Were needed a way to control what was being said. Hence, copyright. Granting exclusive privileges to publish works in exchange for the officially licensed printers remaining under the control and restrictions established by the government and/or churches. That way no publications deemed "heretical" or "dissentious" could be printed and distributed.

    Copyright is censorship. Censorship is the origin of copyright.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 4th, 2013 @ 2:07pm

    Re: Re: Correction

    Or someone paid the 150k to get in to the "independent" Admissions company.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 4th, 2013 @ 2:14pm

    I have never seen a "still image" where persons in the image are walking...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 4th, 2013 @ 3:35pm

    This isn't about copyright. This is about placating the US, so they don't send goon squads in helicopters to raid Oxford Union. "Copyright" was just a convenient excuse.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    icon
    JMT (profile), Feb 4th, 2013 @ 6:06pm

    Re: Correction

    Protip: If you're going to follow your "correction" with a rude, snarky comment, get your facts right.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
    identicon
    joeeeee, Feb 5th, 2013 @ 4:37am

    This is pretty minor but I think you can caption your imgur uploads so you might as well add the video's URL to it in case someone happens upon the image.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 5th, 2013 @ 5:10am

    Re:

    "scared almost everyone is of violating copyright."

    I'm guessing that it is more of an excuse than anything else.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 5th, 2013 @ 5:12am

    Re:

    Don't blame me, I voted for Kodos

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
    identicon
    MA, Feb 5th, 2013 @ 5:23am

    It's not a still image from "Collateral Murder" behind Assange during his speech. It's a video. See here:

    http://cambridge.tab.co.uk/2013/02/03/breaking-wikileaks-takes-on-oxford-union/

    While you're correct that material produced by the US government cannot be copyrighted in the United States, the US government could theoretically claim copyright in a foreign country, if the laws there allow it to do so.

    On the other hand, the Oxford Union's video was posted on YouTube, which is based in the US. I assume this would make it more difficult for the US to claim its copyright is being violated in the UK.

    I am sure that the US government would not claim copyright on something that is being used in an editorial capacity, no matter if foreign laws allowed it. The "Collateral Murder" video has been broadcast by many news agencies in many countries. But UK laws would allow it, and Brits are accustomed to thinking in terms of Crown Copyright.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
    icon
    Ninja (profile), Feb 5th, 2013 @ 6:04am

    That explains why the FBI/DOJ/etc send out redacted documents for FOIA requests. It's all about copyright! So we'll need to wait till Mickey Mouse dies to get our hands in the document.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35.  
    identicon
    Peter Hirtle, Feb 5th, 2013 @ 6:37am

    Copyright status of US government works

    US government works are in then public domain in the US, but can be protected by copyright outside of the US. Here is the text from the House Report on this section:
    The prohibition on copyright protection for United States Government works is not intended to have any effect on protection of these works abroad. Works of the governments of most other countries are copyrighted. There are no valid policy reasons for denying such protection to United States Government works in foreign countries, or for precluding the Government from making licenses for the use of its works abroad.

    How this would play out under UK law is an interesting question. The UK normally follows the "rule of the shorter term," so that if something enters the public domain in the US, it is also in the public domain in the UK. But I don't know what would happen if an object is in the public domain for reasons other than expiration of term.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36.  
    identicon
    Pseudonym, Feb 5th, 2013 @ 5:02pm

    Re: Re: Mike, Mike,... You are confused...

    It wouldn't have been a copyright violation were it shown in the US, and probably (but I'm not 100% certain) wouldn't were it shown in the UK. However, I'm not sure that the Oxford Union knew this. They are not, after all, experts on the laws of foreign countries.

    Works produced by the UK government are not public domain by default (look up "Crown Copyright"). That they took the precaution is understandable, even if in hindsight they didn't need to.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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