Did ICE 'Pirate' Its Anti-Piracy PSA?

from the where's-the-licensing-agreement? dept

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.

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Comments on “Did ICE 'Pirate' Its Anti-Piracy PSA?”

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59 Comments
Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I can see what you’re saying, but at least Techdirt, you know, ASKED THEM what the deal was via FOIA requests before jumping to their conclusions. I don’t recall ICE extending the same basic courtesy to their victims.

Assumptions on both sides? Sure. But only because in this case, we have no other option to exercize….

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“Even if they can’t dig up an explicit license, isn’t it still likely that they used it by permission?”

In the land where Prince’s people can yank down a video of a baby dancing because his music was in the background, not as a soundtrack happened to be on the radio at the same time, one needs to make sure that you have utmost respect for the law.

When your weird job is playing copyright cop, I guess some of the videos are illegally crossing the border using faked customs declarations, one really needs to be on the high ground on the matter before going after others.

While NBC might not be mad about ICE using the propaganda, not being able to show a license agreement means they are violating the copyright. The fact the actors contracts might not cover this use needs to be examined as well.

Everytime ICE seizes a domain an actor doesn’t get paid.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Even Mike is now conceding that they probably have permission despite his requests coming back empty. There’s really no story here, but you guys keep milking it. Wouldn’t want those FOIA requests to be for naught–I’m pretty sure Mike was going to spin this negative and FUD it out no matter what information was actually returned.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

This is an agency who has been leading the charge to take out “pirate” websites and their intel comes from the industry saying it has to be infringing.

When they can not come up with a single document showing they have the rights to use this video, using the same burden of proof they use, we should be suing ICE and seizing property.

There are some serious questions that need to be answered here, and the fact they do not want to answer should be considered as something not right going on behind the scenes.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

This is an agency who has been leading the charge to take out “pirate” websites and their intel comes from the industry saying it has to be infringing.

When they can not come up with a single document showing they have the rights to use this video, using the same burden of proof they use, we should be suing ICE and seizing property.

There are some serious questions that need to be answered here, and the fact they do not want to answer should be considered as something not right going on behind the scenes.

You really are out of your fucking mind. What serious questions? No one claiming to be a rightsholder has objected. Yet absent any statement by anyone claiming copyright that ICE didn’t have proper authorization, this stupid thing gets elevated by the Techdirtbag conspiracy theorists.

This place is like the National Enquirer pressroom only more hysterical.

JMT says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“I’m pretty sure Mike was going to spin this negative and FUD it out no matter what information was actually returned.”

And here you are trying to put down any interest in the story by claiming there isn’t one. It’s hard to understand why you’d do that unless you have reasons for not wanting further questions or discussion. We certainly don’t see any reasonable explanations from you.

And wow for “FUD it out”. That’s some real sharp creative writing skills you’ve got there…

Any Mouse (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

But there is a story here. It calls directly to their authority and how much we believe them. They cannot, or will not, provide documentation that they licensed the video. Why? It’s a simple matter of showing said document with the personally identifiable information redacted. Saying they don’t have to shows us they have no respect for the public, and that needs to change.

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Re:

When dealing with corporate copyright permissions, all such permissions are in writing. This creates a paper trail, which ICE has repeatedly claimed does not exist.

Either ICE pirated the video and are breaking copyright law, or they are lying about a FOIA request and are in violation of the Freedom of Information Act. Either way, they’re breaking the law.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

When dealing with corporate copyright permissions, all such permissions are in writing. This creates a paper trail, which ICE has repeatedly claimed does not exist.

Either ICE pirated the video and are breaking copyright law, or they are lying about a FOIA request and are in violation of the Freedom of Information Act. Either way, they’re breaking the law.

Sorry. what law school did you graduate from?

Jesse Townley (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

“When dealing with corporate copyright permissions, all such permissions are in writing. This creates a paper trail, which ICE has repeatedly claimed does not exist.”

Even for the lowliest independent film, there are usually a fair amount of agreements for master & sync rights for music.

I can’t IMAGINE what a US government agency would produce in terms of a paper trail for use of a piece of film produced and used by a private corporation. It’d be a battle of red tape back and forth!

Who will win? The FOIA knows, bwahahaha!

Ninja (profile) says:

Pirate Mike, have you forgot that they seized domains without due process? They can obviously use copyrighted material without due process too, silly. You and your syncophants can’t even see that much in your utopic quest for freeloading on the expense of the creators? You are just a bunch of freetards ignoring the benefits of the work of this great Governmental outfit that the ICE is.

Did I do it right? How was my trolling overall?

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re:

True, a few words in capital letters then.

Also forgot about Marcus. Damn he’s gonna be mad at me… I forgot the broadbrush thing, it would fit wonderfully here. I wonder what’s the troll word of the month. It was syncophants a while ago but I can’t keep up with them. Maybe I should set a trend and start my own personal troll words of the month?

And not ask how I’m doing and waiting to be reported by the community. I feel that’s the next step, for now I’m just polishing my skills! But thanks for the tip too.

Hulser (profile) says:

Re: Fair use for non-profit and sovereign immunity is enough.

“Fair use” applies even to your opponents, remember.

Whoosh! You really missed the piont, didn’t you? It’s not that fair use doesn’t apply here. It’s that ICE is being hypocritical and not applying the same rules to themselves that they apply to others.

Let me break it down for you in simple terms. ICE siezed the domains of web sites which were using music sent to them by the record companies. The evidence justifying the siezures was basically that the music being used was not owned by the web sites. But when ICE basically does the same thing — uses copyrighted material not owned by ICE — now it’s OK?

And yes, you’re allowed to use copyrighted material if you have permission from the owner. Obviously. The problem is that ICE doesn’t appear to care that the web sites actually had permission? (Wouldn’t you think you’d have permission to use a song if the company who owns the song sent it to you and asked you to use it on your site?)

AJ says:

Re: Fair use for non-profit and sovereign immunity is enough.

“Still failed because you went ahead with absence of evidence, just as various “copyright trolls” do.”

Or did you fail, for not recognizing that he was actually pointing out that they failed, by failing to respond to his FOIA with anything other than a steaming pile of fail!?

Edward Teach says:

Avast, Ye Scury Hypocrites!

As the Subgeniuses say, “We don’t practice what we preach, because we’re not the people we’re preaching to”.

Shiver me sides, those Subgenii are funny! Me hearties, I think they’re refuting a point with irony rather than actually claiming that preaching should be done in a hypocritical manner, Benny Hinn, Crystal Methodist, Landover Baptist and Fred Phelps notwithstanding. ICE and the Legalistic AC beware! Crawling up inside the law will not keep reality from happening!

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