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.

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Comments on “Collateral Censorship: Oxford Union Replaces Assange Speech Backdrop, Citing 'Copyright' Concerns”

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Skeptical Cynic (profile) says:

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.

Pseudonym (profile) says:

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.

Rekrul says:

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!

ComputerAddict (profile) says:

Re: 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.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 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!”

weneedhelp (profile) says:

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.

cpt kangarooski says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 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.

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

MA says:

It’s not a still image from “Collateral Murder” behind Assange during his speech. It’s a video. See here:

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.

Peter Hirtle (profile) says:

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.

The EuroSceptic (profile) says:

Oxford Union - Apparatchiks for the NWO

On our Youtube EuroSceptic Channel, we posted a segment on Nigel Farage and his speech on #BREXIT. Apparently some Bill Clinton “Rapist” buddy did not like the EuroSceptic Channel and decide to complain on copyright infringements which they seem to know alot about. It does not matter to us, we will ride out the 3 month suspension storm and be back! The Saul Alinsky Apparatchiks will not have their way! – You can still subscribe to the channel, hopefully strength in numbers we can overcome this pestilence that plagues the academia. A mockery of their logo – “People who shape our world” NO THANKS – WE DON’T NEED YOUR KIND OF WORLD!

The Video in Question –

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