Colombian Grad Student Finally Cleared Of Criminal Charges For Posting Academic Article Online
from the copyright-gone-mad dept
Three years ago, we brought you the horrifying story of Diego Gomez, a grad student in Colombia. While working on his own research, he relied on and cited a paper that he couldn’t find anywhere else online. As was common practice in Colombia, Gomez uploaded that paper to Scribd so that others could follow his own work and understand his citation. As a research practice, this is a really good idea. Under copyright law, however, it gets stupidly problematic. And it was made much more stupidly problematic by the insane copyright law passed in Colombia — under pressure from the US — which made this a criminal act for which Gomez faced up to 8 years in prison along with monetary fines.
Again, he absolutely did upload someone else’s paper to the internet — but this was an academic paper, it wasn’t for Gomez’s own profit, but for perfectly reasonable academic purposes, to make sure people were better informed. Not only that, but as soon as he found out the paper’s author was unhappy, he deleted the paper from Scribd. And yet he’s spent the past few years dealing with criminal charges over it. Thankfully, just this week Gomez was cleared of any wrongdoing. It just cost him four years of absolute hell. And it’s not totally over yet. While the judge has given a “not guilty” verdict, the prosecutor has already announced plans to appeal.
“I have been cleared. I am innocent,” a delighted G?mez said after the verdict. “When I received the news, after 4 years with so much uncertainty, which is an obstacle in personal and professional life, that was a great happiness. However, knowing that the prosecutor appealed brings uncertainty back.”
EFF has been heavily involved in this case, and note that it shows one of the many problems with countries ratcheting up punishments for copyright infringement often under the guise of “complying with international agreements.”:
Diego?s story also demonstrates what can go wrong when nations enact severe penalties for copyright infringement. Even if all academic research were published freely and openly, researchers would still need to use and share copyrighted materials for educational purposes. With severe prison sentences on the line for copyright infringement, freedom of expression and intellectual freedom suffer.
Diego?s story also serves as a cautionary tale of what can happen when copyright law is broadened through international agreements. The law Diego was prosecuted under was enacted as part of a trade agreement with the United States. But as is often the case when trade agreements are used to expand copyright law, the agreement only exported the U.S.? extreme criminal penalties; it didn?t export our broad fair use provisions. When copyright law becomes more restrictive with no account for freedom of expression, people like Diego suffer.
Indeed. I know that we get a fair amount of pushback from some in the copyright industry whenever we talk about the free speech or chilling effects impact of overzealous copyright enforcement. Time and time again we’re told that these are “anomalies” or that such things are impossible, because why would anyone ever use copyright to stifle someone’s speech. However, I can’t even imagine the horror that Gomez has gone through for the past four years, in which he was literally facing being locked up for years and fines for being a good academic. That’s insane — and so is any copyright law that would allow this to happen.
The fact that Colombian prosecutors aren’t yet willing to drop this case is even more upsetting and concerning. What possible reason do they have for thinking that this case is worth pushing forward like this?