As you may recall, earlier this year Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) group proudly announced that it had started placing a video "public service announcement" (PSA) on all of the domains that it had forfeited (without any trial) from those it accused of violating intellectual property laws. The PSA they used was interesting for a variety of reasons. It involved actor/comedian Tom Papa, telling people on the streets of New York that getting a movie for free meant a boom operator would be out of work. The first thing that was interesting... was that it appeared to be almost identical to a video that was part of a New York City anti-piracy campaign
. At least the feds made one small edit that took out the totally false claim that "there's no such thing as a free movie."
So, we were wondering, if the feds were really so concerned about getting actors paid... just how much did they pay Tom Papa and the boom mic operator for their appearance in the video. Did they pay anything? After all, rather than actually hiring actors and paying them, all ICE did was "copy" someone else's video. So, we asked PR people at ICE and in the NYC government... and got back nothing. Seemed odd.
So, then we filed some freedom of information act requests. Our request to NYC turned up the information that the videos were owned by NBC Universal
. This was also odd. After all, nowhere does the federal government say that the videos are property of NBC Universal. You would think that when the federal government is running propaganda videos created by a private company, the least
they could do is acknowledge where they came from. But, still, even if they were owned by NBC Universal, was the federal government (and our taxpayer dollars) paying these actors?
My first FOIA request to ICE was sent back saying there were no responsive documents
. That seemed odd. Did ICE not
license the video? We filed a second
FOIA request that was even more
specific to make sure... and while ICE initially sent back a "no responsive documents" response, they later admitted that was in error and sent back ten pages. But those ten pages show nothing about any licensing info. Instead, they include a press release bragging about the PSA getting 100,000 views, and some emails related to that press release. You can see that embedded below.
So, at this point, we're still left wondering: did ICE license the video at all? Or did they "pirate" it? After all, in the original version
of this video, Tom Papa clearly states, "there's no such thing as a free movie." Yet, ICE can't seem to find any paperwork at all to show that they properly licensed the PSA or that they paid for it or any of the actors appearing in it. And given the way ICE has been leaping to conclusions
about "piracy" on the websites they seize, I think I've provided ICE with much more courtesy to prove that they weren't violating anyone's copyright here than ICE does with the sites they seize.
So, I think it's fair to say that a reasonable person could conclude that, yes, ICE "pirated" it's anti-piracy PSA -- and until they show proof that they properly licensed it, this should be the working assumption. So, uh, when does ICE seize ICE's domain?
As you ponder that, don't forget that NBC Universal is working on making its next round of propaganda PSA's that will be "pirated" by the government, and doing so by getting schoolchildren to repeat talking points. In response, we're running a counter-contest, in which we're asking people to create videos about how creativity is impacted by technology. Unlike the propaganda campaign, we're not giving you the talking points (we believe you can think and speak for yourself). Also, unlike their campaign we don't take your copyright. Oh yeah, and we're offering more money.