FBI Agent Tries To Register Copyright On Top Secret Interrogation Manual... Making It Available To Anyone

from the copyright-uber-alles dept

Here's a bizarre one on so many levels. The FBI has a top secret 70-page "interrogation manual." For years, the ACLU has been trying to get its hands on a copy, finally receiving a heavily redacted one. However, it turns out that if the good folks at the ACLU had just decided to wander over to the Library of Congress, they could have seen a totally unredacted copy of the entire manual, as could anyone else with a library card. Why? Because in this bizarre age we live in, in which people seem to think it's important to copyright absolutely everything the senior FBI official who authored the manual decided that he should try to register a copyright on it, and submitted it to the Library of Congress as a part of the registration process, whereby it becomes available to anyone who stops by and asks for it.

This is idiotic on multiple levels. First, as is well known, documents produced by federal government employees are automatically public domain, meaning that you cannot copyright them. Second, of course, why the hell would this FBI supervisory special agent think it even made the least bit of sense to try to get a copyright, let alone submit a copy of the top secret manual to the Library of Congress? Then, of course, there's the issue that even if it was possible to put a copyright on this document (and, again, there's not), it would almost certainly belong not to the individual FBI agent, but to the government itself. Not only can't this guy get a copyright, but there's no reason for him to try to get a copyright (what, is he going to sell the book?), and then revealing the manual to anyone, let alone an operation whose basic entire purpose is to catalog the works and make them available to the public is quite incredible.

Mother Jones, who went and found the manual at the Library of Congress, quotes a few people who are reasonably shocked that this happened:
"A document that has not been released does not even need a copyright," says Steven Aftergood, a government secrecy expert at the Federation of American Scientists. "Who is going to plagiarize from it? Even if you wanted to, you couldn't violate the copyright because you don't have the document. It isn't available."

"The whole thing is a comedy of errors," he adds. "It sounds like gross incompetence and ignorance."

Julian Sanchez, a fellow with the libertarian Cato Institute who has studied copyright policy, was harsher: "Do they not cover this in orientation? [Sensitive] documents should not be placed in public repositories—and, by the way, aren't copyrightable. How do you even get a clearance without knowing this stuff?"
Aftergood's comments are a little misleading, as there are certainly reasons why someone might want to register a copyright on an unpublished work (though, none of them apply to this particular work), and plagiarism is a different issue from infringement. But his point about "gross incompetence and ignorance" seems on point.

Of course, now that the full document can be seen by anyone, Mother Jones compared it to the ACLU's redacted version, and while they're not allowed to make copies or take notes when viewing the document, they were able to look at some of the redacted sections, including revealing some questionable techniques. From what's been revealed, it appears that the manual does encourage the use of very outdated and discredited interrogation techniques. In an interesting bit of timing, there was just a fascinating New Yorker article focusing on how law enforcement in the US still uses this completely debunked method, known as the "Reid Technique," which has a long history of eliciting false confessions (there's also a really good summary of the details over at NPR). US law enforcement has long been resistant to moving away from these methods, despite their ineffectiveness, but thanks to one not-particularly-knowledgeable FBI agent's desire to copyright an uncopyrightable work, we now know a bit more about the FBI's continued promotion of these techniques.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    icon
    silverscarcat (profile), Dec 20th, 2013 @ 11:10am

    For once...

    Copyright actually did a good thing.

     

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  2.  
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    Kionae (profile), Dec 20th, 2013 @ 11:20am

    Re: For once...

    Well, statistically, it had to happen sooner or later.

     

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

  3.  
    identicon
    KoD, Dec 20th, 2013 @ 11:32am

    ...

    Somehow, this needs to find its way into a torrent. Brave be the soul who uploads the FBI's bible...

     

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  4.  
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    TJGeezer (profile), Dec 20th, 2013 @ 11:34am

    Hey, lighten up

    Since when is the FBI (or its agents) expected to know or care about the law?
    /s

     

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  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 20th, 2013 @ 11:39am

    On purpose?

    Maybe the guy did this on purpose to disclose the information in a way that simply looks like incompetence.

    Whistle blowers are persecuted, idiots just get reprimanded and occasionally fired.....

     

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

  6.  
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    Coogan (profile), Dec 20th, 2013 @ 11:40am

    And these are the people in a position to protect the US, it's citizens, and it's assets from threats.

    Even scarier, these are the people sworn to protect and uphold the US Constitution.

    I don't know whether it's funny or terrifying that the only times these people seem to do anything good is when they massively fuck something up.

     

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  7.  
    identicon
    DogBreath, Dec 20th, 2013 @ 11:41am

    Maybe just more government dissembling?

    Could it be that by a public filing of copyright, this FBI Agent was directed to misdirect?


    From what's been revealed, it appears that the manual does encourage the use of very outdated and discredited interrogation techniques.


    Perhaps the real manual retractions are still Top Secret, or the agent in question is just stupid, real stupid.

     

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  8. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
    identicon
    out_of_the_blue, Dec 20th, 2013 @ 11:42am

    Why the surprise? You should know copyright is technique of the police state!

    Of course, Mike never mentions that Google uses copyright and secrecy TOO. -- I blame Mike because he's always writing as though copyright is a weapon used only to bludgeon people and either prevent or compel speech, giving people entirely wrong ideas about its use and scope, when actually copyright is simple common law: "I made it, therefore I own it".

    Mike's technique is to be wrong more often and in more ways than critics can keep up with. But he shows only anomalies and mis-use, while actually copyright works well millions of times a day.

    07:41:48[i-682-3]

     

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  9.  
    identicon
    Dont tempt me, Dec 20th, 2013 @ 11:42am

    Re: ...

    Really please dont. God the urge...

     

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

  10.  
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    madasahatter (profile), Dec 20th, 2013 @ 11:43am

    Incompetence

    Since all government produced works are public domain why did the LofO not notice this was a government document. I can understand someone who rarely deals with copyright issues not being aware that government works are public domain. But the LofO should know what is not eligible for copyright.

     

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  11.  
    identicon
    Trevor, Dec 20th, 2013 @ 11:54am

    What if...

    What if this guy's plan was to copyright it and then transfer the rights to the FBI, so if it ever leaked the FBI could threaten a civil action against whichever journalists published or reported on it? Instead of dealing with whistleblower protections (ha) and freedom of the press (haha), it would go after the journalists financially (and even criminally if the TTP ever gets done how they want) under this different theory?

    Just spitballin' here...

     

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  12.  
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    DanC (profile), Dec 20th, 2013 @ 11:59am

    "when actually copyright is simple common law: 'I made it, therefore I own it'."

    This is a perfect demonstration that ootb doesn't actually understand the basics of copyright. When you get right down to it, people don't actually own what they've copyrighted. They own the copyright itself, which grants them special privileges in exchange for eventual release to the public domain and as the Constitution says "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts". The timeframe for releasing works to the public domain has been unfairly lengthened to ridiculous levels by politicians since its inception, however.

    So it's not as simplistically wrong as "I made it, I own it" at all.

     

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  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 20th, 2013 @ 12:00pm

    i know it doesn't take much but i am confused. first, if 'documents produced by federal government employees are automatically public domain' why couldn't ACLU get a totally unredacted copy, then? secondly, if these 'documents produced by federal government employees are automatically public domain', what right did anyone have to redact them in the first place before giving them to ACLU?

     

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

  14.  
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    DannyB (profile), Dec 20th, 2013 @ 12:00pm

    Copyright necessary to preserve its value

    Mike, you just don't understand how government works. (insanity to follow...)

    If he didn't get a copyright on a secret torture manual, then it would lose its value! It would be as worthless as something in the public domain. Only Freetards would put creative work into the public domain where nobody can make a profit from it for life of the government + 90 years.

    Since everything a government employee creates is automatically public domain, shouldn't the government copyright it to get it out of the public domain, as the RIAA/MPAA do in order to preserve its value?

    You said it best when you wrote
    This is idiotic on multiple levels.
    That explains it right there. No more analysis needed.

     

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

  15.  
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    DannyB (profile), Dec 20th, 2013 @ 12:02pm

    Re: What if...

    That actually makes sense. Copyright infringement is a far more serious crime than anything else. Plus copyright infringement requires no actual evidence or due process to prosecute. Not even notification to the defendant is required.

     

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  16.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 20th, 2013 @ 12:03pm

    Ignoring that this was a registration of no force and effect, I find it interesting that the mandatory deposits were not filed in fully redacted form. Its classified nature would be accepted at the time of registration as a basis for filing fully redacted copies.

     

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

  17.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 20th, 2013 @ 12:10pm

    Why no copying?

    Why doesn't the library of congress allow notes or copies of copyrighted works for purposes of fair use?

     

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

  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 20th, 2013 @ 12:11pm

    Why was Mother Jones not allowed to take notes? Is it a matter of library policy, or is it because the document's contents are a classified secret.

     

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

  19.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 20th, 2013 @ 12:16pm

    Re: Why no copying?

    The work isn't even copyrighted. It makes no sense.

     

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

  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 20th, 2013 @ 12:16pm

    Re:

    "Public domain" simply means that copyright law does not apply to a work...in this case the manual. It does not mean, however, that the public has unfettered access to a work if that work is of a classified nature. Access requires that the reader have both a security clearance at or higher than the classification applied to the work (e.g., Confidential, Secret, Top Secret, and some others beyond Top Secret) and a need to know.

     

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

  21.  
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    Gwiz (profile), Dec 20th, 2013 @ 12:16pm

    Re: Why the surprise? You should know copyright is technique of the police state!

    ...when actually copyright is simple common law: "I made it, therefore I own it".


    Copyright isn't based on common law (a fact you simply choose to ignore), but if it was and we went by your premise up there, wouldn't it actually be:

    "I made it, therefore I own it, but as soon as I sell it to someone else, I no longer own it". Copyright doesn't even come close to that, does it?

     

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  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 20th, 2013 @ 12:20pm

    Re: On purpose?

    Sounds valid as long as his names not attached to it

     

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

  23.  
    icon
    OldMugwump (profile), Dec 20th, 2013 @ 12:20pm

    Re: "I made it, therefore I own it"

    Yes, you own what you make.

    Until you give it to somebody else. Then you don't own it anymore. They own it instead.

    If you make a copy of something and give that to someone, while keeping the original for yourself, then you own the original, while they own the copy.

    Simple common law, indeed.

     

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

  24.  
    identicon
    Trevor, Dec 20th, 2013 @ 12:21pm

    Re: Re: What if...

    We know they have a knack for piling on charges, so this fits the bill of what the FBI would try to do.

    Also, the Government can't *get* copyrights on its works, but it *can* have copyright rights transferred to it.

     

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  25.  
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    Jay (profile), Dec 20th, 2013 @ 12:29pm

    So are they going to prosecute the leaker as a whistleblower?

     

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

  26.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 20th, 2013 @ 12:31pm

    Re: ...

    I'd rather try to rape a porcupine with a brillo pad condom dipped in acetone.

    In other words HELL NO!

     

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

  27.  
    icon
    Gwiz (profile), Dec 20th, 2013 @ 12:38pm

    Re:

    Oh wow. I just realized some more of Blue's cogitative dissonance all in one comment.

    Read these statements together:
    You should know copyright is technique of the police state!
    But he shows only anomalies and mis-use, while actually copyright works well millions of times a day.


    Are you trying to say that copyright works well millions of times a day as a technique of the police state?

    Blue's paradox-absorbing crumple zone must be enormous. Perhaps it's taking too much space from actual brain cells or something.

     

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

  28.  
    icon
    Gwiz (profile), Dec 20th, 2013 @ 12:40pm

    Re: Re:

    Oops. Typo.

    cogitative = cognitive

     

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

  29.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 20th, 2013 @ 12:41pm

    Re: Why the surprise? You should know copyright is technique of the police state!

    Your concept of common law doesn't work when it comes to 'IP', as there's no way to apply ownership to an idea.

    Say I write an inspiring three line poem. I use a pen and I write it on a standard sheet of paper. I then snow it to a friend of mine.

    My friend likes it a lot. He likes it so much that he gets his own piece of paper and pen, and writes it on his paper.

    Now, according to your common law, my friend made it, so he owns it, right? The pen was his. the paper was his. The labor was his. He should be able to do whatever he wants with his paper, correct?

    I'm sure you'll say no, and that my friend 'stole' it. But what exactly did he steal? A concept? An idea? I still have that concept/idea, so what exactly was 'stolen'? My ability to control the idea? That kind of control is an illusion, as once the idea has been communicated, ownership is shared by all those exposed to it. You can't un-share an idea, or partially share it. Even if I don't communicate my idea in an attempt to maintain control, there's no saying someone else can't come up with the exact same idea. If that happens, who then 'owns' it? If I had told that person the idea before they came up with it themselves, should they have no right to act upon that idea simply because I conceived it first?

    This is why attempting to apply ownership to concepts and ideas is flawed and systems that try to artificially create ownership of such things ultimately break down.

     

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

  30.  
    icon
    ltlw0lf (profile), Dec 20th, 2013 @ 1:11pm

    Re: Re: Re: What if...

    Also, the Government can't *get* copyrights on its works, but it *can* have copyright rights transferred to it.

    Only if the original author doesn't work for the government. A government employee, during the course of their duties, cannot claim copyright and therefore have no grounds to assign the copyright to the government or anyone else. The only way this works is if a contractor generated the document, claimed copyright, and then assigned the copyright to the government.

     

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

  31.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 20th, 2013 @ 1:25pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: What if...

    It is not sufficient for a work prepared by one in the employ of the USG to merely be an employee or officer. The work must also have been prepared an a part of that person's official duties. When these two conditions are met the work become a "work of the United States Government", and such works are stated in Section 105 of the Copyright Act as ineligible for copyright.

    While unlikely to happen anytime soon, one should be aware that the placement of USG works outside of copyright is statutory, and like any statute can be changed with the stroke of a pen. Also note that "public domain" applies only to works of the USG. States are free to copyright to their heart's content (whether or not that is good policy is a separate matter).

     

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

  32.  
    identicon
    Trevor, Dec 20th, 2013 @ 1:38pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: What if...

    Thanks for the clarification.

     

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

  33.  
    identicon
    PRMan, Dec 20th, 2013 @ 2:14pm

    Hmm...

    Sounds like the ACLU and Mother Jones need to start hiring people with perfect photographic memory. They can go and read the document at the Library of Congress and then go back and produce a perfect copy.

     

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

  34.  
    identicon
    Ozols, Dec 20th, 2013 @ 3:39pm

    Re: Re: What if...

    That's not necessarily true. A copyright claimant can cease the distribution of disputed material but if their claim is fraudulent they can be indicted for perjury if the counter-claimant has the desire and resources to press charges. This encompasses not only people who fraudulently claim copyright ownership but also those who file claims against instances of "fair use," which is a set of exceptions allows the use or reproduction of copyrighted material for educational and non-profit purposes.

     

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

  35.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Dec 20th, 2013 @ 5:05pm

    Re: Hmm...

    Awesome, was just about to post the same thing before I noticed your comment.

    Indeed, can't be that hard to find a few people with really good memories to read and then recreate the document, get enough and they can even compensate for any errors in remembering by checking against what the others remember of a particular section.

     

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

  36.  
    identicon
    Androgynous Cowherd, Dec 20th, 2013 @ 9:11pm

    there was just a fascinating New Yorker article focusing on how law enforcement in the US still uses this completely debunked method, known as the "Reid Technique," which has a long history of eliciting false confessions


    Does anyone have a link to this that works properly? The link in the article above goes to a page that seems to interact especially poorly with NoScript. Enabling scripts from their web site and everything that's not an ad/analytics company isn't sufficient to make the little "[+] More" button do anything when clicked, so I can't seem to read past the first page of the article. I don't see any other links to pages 2, 3, etc. either.

    A link to a single page with the full text of the article (rather than a paginated, perhaps JS-requiring mess that might be equally broken as the original site's) would be preferred.

     

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

  37.  
    identicon
    Androgynous Cowherd, Dec 20th, 2013 @ 10:05pm

    Re:

    Adding to the above, I've tried a variety of Google queries constructed using the article title and distinctive words chosen from the first page of the article text, and Google can't seem to find me a more accessible copy.

    At this point the best hope for success would be for the author of the Techdirt article to provide a magic NoScript incantation to get that site to work, to post an alternative link, or just to pastebin a copy of the article and point us to that. It's going to take either preexisting knowledge of the rest of the article/alternative locations or google-fu beyond anything most people are capable of, it seems.

    Well, that or turning off NoScript and going to a popular website, which is about as safe these days as sleeping with a streetwalker without a condom.

    The weird thing is that articles on major news websites are usually syndicated all over the freaking place, so google should have found a dozen copies, with a high likelihood of at least one of them being on a site that was compatible with my browser setup, but in this case it just isn't showing up.

     

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  38.  
    identicon
    Chase Candler, Dec 21st, 2013 @ 4:26pm

    Evolution

    ...still hoping for that day when humanity evolves and everyone does good things for each other, we won't have meaningless b.s. like this in our future. Feel me? If there was not another intention and he truly did try to copyright it...LOL What an idiot!

     

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

  39.  
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    Sheogorath (profile), Dec 22nd, 2013 @ 3:25am

    Re: Re: Hmm...

    Or mobile phone with front camera + selfies with document + OCR app = no need for people with eidetic memories.

     

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

  40.  
    icon
    btrussell (profile), Dec 22nd, 2013 @ 5:27am

    Re: On purpose?

    ...or they get a promotion.

     

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


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