Burlington Police Insist Someone Is Pretending To Abuse Copyright Law To Censor News Stories About Arrests

from the copyright-as-censorship dept

Last week, we wrote about some bizarre DMCA claims made by a guy named “Mike Ferrell” who claimed to represent the Burlington, Massachusetts Police Department, demanding that Google remove a bunch of stories because it violated the copyright the police department held on certain mugshots. We pointed out how crazy this was — and also questioned whether or not “Ferrell” really represented the police department, because the language used in the takedown was a word salad of nothingness. In case you didn’t remember:

Good afternoon My name is Mike Ferrell. I am the agent legal from the Burlington Police Department (Intellectual Property, Piracy, Copyright/DMCA) located in Massachusetts. I inform you that the infringing content in question awarded or issued previously are infringing our Copyright since these photographs/images are our property, is fully belonging to us. We are the properties, authors or creators of the content that previously indicated content and request of immediate actions appropriate or respective. We need it more soon as possible relevant/correct actions/measures are taken as more before possible, or otherwise we proceed to take action on our own. Thanks circumvention content: http://www.burlingtonpolice.org/Arrest-of-two-men-in-death-of-woman.html http://www.burlingtonpolice.org/Three-man-arrested-in-connection-with-string-of-store-jewelry-robberies.html http://www.burlingtonpolice.org/Nine-arrested-in-sting-operation.html http://www.burlingtonpolice.org/Teens-arrested-in-mosque-vandalism-incident.html http://www.burlingtonpolice.org/Eight-arrested-in-prostitution-sweep.html http://www.burlingtonpolice.org/Seven-johns-charged-in-reverse-prostitution-sting.html circumvention mechanism: Providing photographies/images protected for us.

Mike Kent, the Chief of Police in Burlington reached out to us over the weekend to let us know that whoever sent the notices, it was not his department. He says they have no one working for them by the name of Mike Ferrell, and that the Burlington PD “has no issues whatsoever with these mugshots being used.”

So… that leaves open the question of just who is impersonating the Burlington Police Department, and filing completely bogus DMCA notices in an attempt to censor news stories. It would seem that the most obvious options are those who were featured in those stories about arrests in Burlington. The very first notice that Ferrell sent, focused on stories about a particular prostitution sting, and named the nine men who were arrested, along with mugshots. It would seem that perhaps one (or more!) of those nine men would have pretty strong incentives to seek to have those stories deleted from Google.

Either way, we’ve been pointing out for years that copyright is an easy tool for censorship — and here’s yet another example. If you want something censored, just try to work out a copyright conneciton of some sort. In this case, it appears to have failed, but mostly because whoever filed it wasn’t very good at pretending to work for the police.

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Comments on “Burlington Police Insist Someone Is Pretending To Abuse Copyright Law To Censor News Stories About Arrests”

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Ninja (profile) says:

One mandatory question: does this guy Mike Ferrel exist? As far as I can remember there were other cases where copyright and non-existent people (or fraudulently included people like Alan Cooper) were in the same news. This is THE nail in the coffin of the “anomalies” argument the copyright cheerleaders like to use.

Anybody may start claiming copyright on anything using made up claimants just to take it down. Right to be forgotten a la America.

Anonymous Coward says:

About time...

I was wondering how long it would take someone to start using DMCA and Copyright to start using them to suppress things there were never intended to suppress.

Hopefully some code jockey will make an app for letting everyone just deluge the fuck outta sites with DMCA takedown requests forcing a revisit of the law on this bullshit!

That One Guy (profile) says:

Why not?

Given filing bogus copyright claims is a low to no risk proposition generally, it’s not surprising that so many seem to default to it to get rid of information they don’t like.

If there were actual penalties for filing bogus DMCA claims and they were enforced then people and companies might hesitate before doing so, but as it stands why not send out a claim to remove something you don’t like, at most you’re likely looking at a stern warning not to do it again.

(If the person making the claims receives any punishment whatsoever it’s sure to be related to falsely claiming to be a cop, and have nothing whatsoever to do with the bogus DMCA claims.)

Anonymous Coward says:

arrested != convicted

Honest question: What is the purpose of the police publishing mugshots of arrested persons?

To me, it seems disturbingly prejudicial.

For example, I recently was in a courtroom where the prosecution played surreptitiously recorded telephone conversations in which the defendants had allegedly participated, and visually annotated the recordings by projecting onto a screen the mugshot of whichever defendant was alleged to be speaking.

In such a case, if indeed it can be established with appropriate certainty who the speaker is, I can understand, in the service of clarity, the purpose of projecting some picture of the alleged speaker.

But to use a mugshot seems unneccessarily prejudicial. Why not a high-school yearbook photo, a drivers license, or some other suitably recent picture?

If mugshots are to be routinely used in this fashion, shouldn’t the subject be allowed a private moment to examine themself in a mirror, fix their hair, clean their teeth, etc?

Does that sound absurd? If so, are not these "off-label" uses of mugshots equally suspect?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: arrested != convicted

The entire purpose behind taking terrible mugs shots is to intentionally make people look visibly bad for jury and public. The police do not give a shit about your rights or your reputation (unless you are part of the IN crowd that gets extra legal benefits).

Additionally, the police do not care about your innocence or guilt, they view everyone as nothing but criminals to “catch” red handed. If there is a tool provided by law that would let them take your possession they will use it, think civil forfeiture here. If there is a tool provided by law that would let them murder you, they will use it. Even the Miranda acts clearly states that everything you say can and will be used against you. No only are the police against you, the entire system they created is designed to work against you and never for you!

The system is designed to be gamed by the rich and powerful, the rest of you ignorant plebs are fodder. Scraps to be toyed with or even OWNED by your betters while you run around electing your next overlord in ignorant and juvenile bliss!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: arrested != convicted

Why not a high-school yearbook photo, a drivers license, or some other suitably recent picture?

Probably because having any of those is far from guaranteed, and are more difficult to track down.

A highschool year book photo can be laughably out of date within months as young adults newly freed from school dress codes and parental restrictions grow facial hair, grow their hair out, or dye their hair, or pick up or lose weight. Plus they’d have to either track down someone with the year book, or pester the school for a copy they’d likely be reluctant to provide simply because they wish to disassociate themselves from the accused graduate of the school.

A driver’s license can easily be years out of date, and is subject to many of the same limitations. With the addition of hair loss and aging lines added to the ways someone could differ from their driver’s license photo, and the need to get the photo out of the state motor vehicle department instead of the school.

“Some other suitably recent picture” could easily not exist, particularly back when taking a picture required lugging around a separate camera instead of just whipping out your pocket phone/computer. Even now there are plenty of people whose cell phones are full of pictures of people other than themselves. And friends and family who do have photos may have no interest in handing them over to the cops.

So mugshots are essentially the police creating a “suitably recent picture”. One that shows what they looked like at the time they were arrested, not 5 or 10 years ago.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: arrested != convicted

This comment explains why the police take mugshots.

I am more curious about why the police publish them, because I am struggling (unsuccessfully) to imagine any subsequent use that is not inappropriately prejudicial.

I am inclined to suspect that it is merely a flagrant abuse of power: It’s part of the "ride" you can’t beat, even if you manage to beat the rap.

Norahc (profile) says:

First flag

The first red flag for me that this was a BS takedown was this statement

>Burlington Police Department (Intellectual Property, Piracy, Copyright/DMCA)

Since when would a police department like Burlington, MA actually have an Intellectual Property, Piracy, Copyright/DMCA person? DMCA I can understand for their website…but the rest?

cpt kangarooski says:

Re: Copyright on government works

As far as I know, works by government bodies CANNOT have a copyright in the USA. So mugshots must be public domain anyway.


Works created by the federal government are not copyrightable under 17 USC, although the federal government is able to hold copyrights it acquires otherwise. States aren’t subject to that rule, and whether or not they disclaim federal and state copyrights they’re entitled to is a matter of state law. In certain contexts there’s also a due process argument, as has been seen in the fights over the copyrightability of state laws.

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