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?

Filed Under: , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Colombian Grad Student Finally Cleared Of Criminal Charges For Posting Academic Article Online”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Daydream says:

So let me get this straight:

Diego Gomez was sued, and had criminal charges brought against him, for…sharing a non-commercial work for educational purposes? And even though he took action to stop further unlicensed sharing of said work after he was sued, the prosecutors of the case are still targeting him, even going so far as to appeal the judge’s decision?


…I’m not sure words exist to express my feelings on this. It’s not like Gomez tried to bring about the apocalypse, he just shared one document in a culturally normal way, he did his best to fix things after being sued (and who sues as a first resort, anyway?), and yet these prosecutors still want to imprison him for…what? I can’t understand their motives at all.

Do they just think that having a law that gives them an excuse means they’re allowed to hurt innocent people?

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: So let me get this straight:

“yet these prosecutors still want to imprison him for…what?”

Someone might have been able to make some money from the document if it hadn’t been shared. Or, at least that’s possible in their mind. The fact that he only shared it because he couldn’t find a legal source is neither here nor there.

Or, if that wasn’t possible in this case, they want to ensure that people actually making profit or costing revenue think twice by making this guy an example.

“Do they just think that having a law that gives them an excuse means they’re allowed to hurt innocent people?”

Yes, they do. Maximalists never care who gets in their way so long as they can imagine they’re protecting some profit. Ordinary people are just collateral damage on their quest for imagined profits.

Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

> 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.

Don’t worry, it’s a *trade* agreement. We’ve been exporting our extreme criminal penalties, so soon we’ll be *importing* restrictions on fair use. The USTR will be ecstatic about having that kind of balance…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

We’ve been exporting our extreme criminal penalties, so soon we’ll be importing restrictions on fair use.

The Berne Convention – drafted in 1886, signed by the US in 1988(!) – was a really big nail in Public Domain’s coffin. I don’t doubt that Big Media will use trade agreements as you say, to extend copyright terms, restrictions on fair use, etcetera, to the least common denominator of international law.

… and as Big Media has more influence in some countries than others, that least common denominator will be theirs to control.

Rekrul says:

“In this paper I will prove conclusively that Donald Trump incompetent and unfit for the office of President of the United States. I will be relying heavily on a new academic paper by I. M. Frawd which shows that he is delusional and suffering from multiple mental conditions. Unfortunately you won’t be able to check my references as the paper isn’t available anywhere online and I can’t upload it without breaking copyright law, so you’ll just have to trust me that everything I write is true.”

Daydream says:

Re: Re:

I remember last year, there was a story about how judges were using Compas assessment software to identify criminals as ‘high risk’ and extend their sentences.
The code and algorithms used in said software, of course, are ‘proprietary’ so they aren’t allowed to be looked at by defense lawyers to see if they actually do anything.

tp (profile) says:

Grad students are always in danger

Grad students are supposed to be the best people university has found from the pool of students trying to enter the school. So they are expected to follow the copyright rules more accurately than other people on the planet. If they can handle the complex requirements of their future work, they have no problems regognizing where the line between illegal copyright infringement and valid sharing is at. The copyright rules are enforced to the whole population, so the best people ought to follow it even more carefully.

While we can always speculate how great everything was if the copyright rules were removed, that isn’t currently the case, and there’s global requirements to follow the rules. Ordinary people need to follow the rules on global scale. Authors need to be extreamly strict on copyright rules. Grad students are expected to be accurate enough that they never make a mistake in this kind of issues.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Grad students are always in danger

Authors need to be extreamly(sp) strict on copyright rules.

Authors of academic papers should be strict on attribution, not copyright. I have never heard of an academic becoming rich from their academic works. Books that use their research maybe, but the written description of their research, never.

In the mean time, organizations like Elsivier take the copyrights from academics, for their own enrichment, not the academics.

Try again.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Grad students are always in danger

So they are expected to follow the copyright rules more accurately than other people on the planet

Right… it’s up to grad students to be at the top of the "who can follow copyright law the best" game. And not the companies that actually enforce copyright, because why else would they rip off images from other websites and image creators for their webpage design?

This amount of leeway you keep giving to the likes of the RIAA is bloody ridiculous, Mr. I-Think-The-Public-Domain-is_Illegal.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...