Copyright And Protest: How Copyright Is Getting In The Way Of Thai Protests

from the copyright-and-expression dept

Thailand has become a focus of international attention again recently due to the big protests on the street against the current government and the upcoming election, which the protesters claim symbolizes the continuing rule of the allegedly corrupted dictatorship of Thai ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. If you haven't been following it, you can read the details elsewhere, since it is quite complex and controversial. However, an interesting copyright issue has actually emerged from these protests.

Since the beginning of the protests, a key symbol of the protesters has been the whistle. The earliest flash mobs of the protest involved a large group of people gathered in public space, who all blew whistles at the same time. Soon after, whistles were used against certain politicians, with protest leaders directing protesters to blow whistles at certain politicians (those they believed were corrupt). In short, the whistle has become the symbol of resistance for the protesters.

Bluesky Channel is the local cable TV channel which is closely associated with the protest and its leaders. It has been broadcasting from the front line of the protest from the very beginning. The channel's logo is a blue lighting bolt. When the protest had grown larger, both the leader and the Channel attempted to change the symbol of the protest from an ordinary whistle to a lightning-shaped whistle in particular. They eventually sold "official" lightning-shaped whistles to the protesters and claimed the revenue would help them finance the protests.


Like just about anything in Thailand that sells well, once the lightning-shaped whistle grew popular, other merchants began to manufacture and sell "unofficial" lightning-shaped whistles to the protesters. Once it found out, Bluesky took to Facebook to angrily claim that it owned the copyright on the lightning-shaped whistle and called for the protest guards to investigate.

On January 15th, Bluesky finally had the protest guards confiscate unofficial lightning-shaped whistles sold in the protest area by the hawkers and proudly posted the "confiscated" stuff on its Facebook page with some statements that basically said: "If you sell it, we will confiscate it."
There have been a bunch of different reactions to this. Some are claiming the guards did the right thing since the protest is against "corruption" and immorality -- being immoral can be a legitimate political accusation in Thailand -- and, to them, copyright infringement is also a kind of corruption or immoral act. To them, confiscating it is totally legitimate.

Others, however, say that even if the unofficial lightning-shaped whistles really infringe on Bluesky Channel's copyright, there shouldn't be any confiscation. Their argument is that Bluesky Channel's priority should be broadening the political alliance as widely as possible, not on selling merchandise for profit. Furthermore, there are some ironic comments that the protest itself played unlicensed music and many of the "Anonymous" Guy Fawkes masks used by protesters violated Time Warner's intellectual property. (This issue is quite complicated. The pro-government -- or pro-Thaksin, or pro-democracy as they call themselves -- groups always wear what they call "the Red Shirt." However, anti-Thaksin groups' symbols have changed over time. First, there was the Yellow Shirt, then the Multi-Colored Shirt, the Anonymous wearing Guy Fawkes mask and finally the Whistle as the latest incarnation. All these anti-Thaksin groups have different leaders, but they have roughly the same ideology, and the same goal of overthrowing everything related to Thaksin.)

It's unclear how a Thai court would react should this kind of copyright infringement case go on trial. Product design infringement cases are quite rare in Thailand. Thailand's Copyright Act is quite short and relies a lot on the courts' interpretation of the situation. Therefore, we do not even quite know what is really an infringement by any national legal standard.

Throughout this confiscation process, no actual police have been involved -- just the private protest guards. To some, this suggests that this kind of action is actually theft, which is surely a crime worse than copyright infringement by any international standard. Finally, it is totally understandable why the protesters did not call on the police to arrest those selling pirated whistles, because, as the protest went on, the protesters -- especially the guards -- showed a rather strong hostility toward the police and (not surprisingly) vice versa. In the end, however, there's an odd bit of copyright suddenly becoming an issue in the middle of large political protests.

The author, a copyright scholar in Thailand, has asked to remain anonymous, noting that with the current political climate in Thailand, using your real name in discussing anything related to the protests can be dangerous.


Reader Comments (rss)

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  1. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
    identicon
    out_of_the_blue, Jan 17th, 2014 @ 4:34pm

    Another brilliant publicity ploy! -- Otherwise, Techdirt would ignore them.

    But put the hook of "copyright" in, and voila! It's picked up here only two days later! Because Mike (my bet for the unnamed writer) never misses an anomaly that can be used to cast copyright as an evil to be destroyed, rather than as an everyday good that allows the creation of significant works from serious to entertainment, not a mere plastic lightning bolt.

    This one wins in categories of lame, far away, and so tangled in other matters that even the alleged unknown writer can't decide on it.

    Any damn fool can copy. Copyright was put in statute to prevent greedy damn fools from profiting off what others made.

    12:34:04[n-157-4]

     

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  2.  
    identicon
    The Rest Of The Story, Jan 17th, 2014 @ 4:36pm

    Where To Learn More

    For those who do want to read about the details of the mass uprising in Thailand, start here:

    http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Southeast_Asia/SEA-01-130114.html

    Then continue here:

    http://bangkokpost.com

    http://nationmultimedia.com

     

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  3.  
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    Lorpius Prime (profile), Jan 17th, 2014 @ 5:09pm

    Re: Where To Learn More

    Or if you want a perspective a little more removed from the conflict, may I suggest:

    http://www.economist.com/blogs/banyan/2014/01/thailands-political-crisis

     

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

  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 17th, 2014 @ 6:53pm

    Thailand Latest

    A bomb was thrown at Suthep's protestors. Suthep is accusing the government of the bomb plot. This has two gaping plot holes in his theory:

    1) namely that the route was changed just before the march to take it past these buildings by his own people, and

    2) the cornucopia of evidence pointing to the police. Police emblems, a man reported someone in the building the day before to the police and they did nothing he said, lots of guns, and the pin from the hand grenade laid on top of the guns, red hat to indicate political preference, All very constructed and hence implausible.

    http://pantip.com/topic/31530364

    There are two main forums where Thais can discuss things, Pantip and Sanook. Over on Pantip they noted that the army was quick to be on the scene, and the officer there was one Col Noppasit Sitthipongsopon. The same Noppasit was photographed in 2010 in the live fire against protestors. So it's just an incredible co-incidence that he is right there at the right time.

    Media like Bangkokpost and Nation Multimedia are the softball pro-democrat papers. So you'll read articles that echo Suthep talking points written by the editor and former editor of Bangkok post.

    Surprisingly the army TV channel is closer to neutral. But it only ever reports the army side of things. So an army man explained the hand grenade wasn't theirs, it was a Chinese model and gave lots of details on it, but how does he know if the forensic examination hasn't happened? I assume its what Col Noppasit Sitthipongsopon told him!

    Bluesky is the main democrat propaganda outlet. I live in the south, and am regularly told by neighbors that Thaksin (deposed PM) has bought red votes. I don't let on that I vote red, its safer that way, I just look at them like they're brainwashed idiots.

    The bodies of state, the Electoral Commission (EC), the Constitution Court (CC), and the National Anti Corruption Council (NACC) are [self censored, please use your imagination as to the nature of these bodies].

    The constitution states that elections need to happen within 60 days and are run by the EC.

    One of the first things Somchai of the EC did was to say that Electoral Commssioners would resign unless they could act as intermediaries in discussions between elected government and Suthep (the wannabe dictator). When pressed on the legality of that, he stated it would be in their private capacity not their EC capacity.

    His offer was declined, not surprisingly and EC continued with the elections process.

    A former EC commissioner stated that if 8 southern provinces failed to register candidates then the number would be less than 95% and thus the government would not be able to call a meeting under the constitution. Handy information to know!

    The protestors then focused on these 8 provinces, blocking registrations. The military offered secure locations, the police urged EC to file a complaint so they could remove the protestors. Instead the EC did nothing and registered no-one. Candidates sued to keep registration open, but the court declined to overrule the EC.

    The EC, a man named Somchai, states that there are no candidates in those seats and EC has made no further attempt to register candidates in those seats. Government held a debate, the military confirmed it would help with secure locations, the police offered enough policemen to clear any protestors. Neither offer has been accepted, no EC commissioner attended the debate.

    An auditor then comes forward, says elections would be a waste of money because of the 95% rule. The EC then states it will consider cancelling the elections became of auditors report. However there is no such legal basis in their job. They are only there to run elections not cancel them.

    A new front against the government has been opened. A deal in the rice pledging scheme may be corrupt, NACC says that the PM should be held accountable because she was leader and thus negligent in failing to stop any claimed corruption, and they have 10000 pages of evidence, a nice round number.

    Previous governments have been struck off and their party banned under corruption claims.

    It is expected that if elections go ahead Yingluk would be re-elected by a huge majority. If she was expected to lose, Suthep and friends wouldn't be trying to block elections.

     

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  5.  
    identicon
    Clownius, Jan 17th, 2014 @ 8:36pm

    Civil disobedience people!

    Protests are a form of civil disobedience to start with. Violating the copyright act seems to be the least of their problems from here.

     

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  6.  
    identicon
    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Jan 18th, 2014 @ 12:53am

    The Thai Protestors Are Not Exactly Democratic

    Remember what the anti-Shinawatra crowd want: they donít want democratic elections, because they figure Yingluck will simply get in again. Instead, they want some kind of unelected council to ensure a minority viewpoint prevails over the majority.

    Itís very hard to feel sympathy for a group like that.

     

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  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 18th, 2014 @ 1:10am

    It's my understanding that the "Red Shirt" protestors do not care for the current Prime Minister's policies, because she is helping the most economically poor in Thailand, in rural farming areas.

    I find it ironic that these middle to upper class "Red Shirt" protestors, are being abused by the very culture of corporatism, for which they are protesting for.

    Also, shame on Blue Sky for trying to profit off the social and political movement of their own people. Through Blue Skies' persecution of protesting "infringes", their true motivations have been revealed. They don't give a damn about the protestors ideologies, they simply want to profit off them while appearing to sympathize with their cause.

    We live in a sick, sick world.

     

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  8.  
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    Bergman (profile), Jan 18th, 2014 @ 1:21am

    Someone should get a crowd together outside of Bluesky's offices and blow whistles at them.

     

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  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 18th, 2014 @ 4:15am

    Re:

    Actually reds are the government, yellows are the old power base that gets into power by judicial and military games.

    The Electoral Commission is the current problem for Thailand. They are required to organize elections by the constitution. But they won't even register candidates in the 8 southern provinces, making the election void before its started.

    Another game to get the yellows into power.

     

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  10.  
    identicon
    The End Is Near, Jan 19th, 2014 @ 8:49am

    Corrupt Thai government collapsing

    http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/politics/390310/support-bleeds-away-from-the-heartland.

    Support bleeds away from the heartland
    As the crisis drags on in Bangkok, those living in red shirt strongholds are questioning their loyalty to the Pheu Thai Party
    Published: 19 Jan 2014

     

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  11.  
    identicon
    Informed Observer, Jan 19th, 2014 @ 8:19pm

    FYI

     

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  12.  
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    Ninja (profile), Jan 20th, 2014 @ 1:35am

    If they didn't want their stuff being used and replicated like hell they should have kept it to themselves and let regular whistles be at the center stage. Regardless of how right they are in their claims this attitude lacks ethics to me. I'd really distance myself from such a company.

     

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  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 20th, 2014 @ 8:41pm

    Re: Another brilliant publicity ploy! -- Otherwise, Techdirt would ignore them.

    Ah look, it is the MPAA lapdog back again.

    Did you get a good pat on the head for your poor attempt at trolling?

    I hope you are making good money with the shill work that you do for the MPAA, though in all honesty, they would be much better of with out you on their side.

    Which, I guess is good for us. Any lawmaker that reads your posts will laugh at your stupidity, at your arrogance, and your hypocricy, your total lack of substance and at just how wrong you are.

    You are not doing your side any favours. But, I guess, so long as they keep on paying you.

     

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


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