Please Don’t Normalize Copyright As A Tool For Censorship
from the bad-ideas dept
Yes, yes, copyright is a tool for censorship. Contrary to the claims of copyright system supporters that copyright can’t be used for censorship, the reality is that is basically the only thing that copyright is good for. I mean, at this point, you are either not paying attention, or are just outright lying if you claim that copyright isn’t regularly used to silence people. I could go on linking to examples, but you get the point.
That said, it’s one thing to recognize that copyright is a tool for censorship and another altogether to normalize and embrace that fact.
Over the last few months, we’ve had a few stories about cops blasting copyright-covered music in an effort to block people filming them from being able to upload the videos online. The steps to getting here are not hard to figure out. The legacy copyright industry spent a couple decades screaming about copyright infringement online, and demanding that internet services wave a magic wand and stop it. And, eventually, a variety of automated copyright filters sprung up to try to get Hollywood to just stop whining all the time.
Of course, filters can’t understand context or fair use, so in practice, these filters block all sorts of important content just because they have ancillary copyright-covered music playing the background. From there, cops figured that this was “this one weird trick” that would get them out of being held accountable for their own misdeeds.
When cops are doing it, it’s clearly problematic, because as multiple courts have noted, you have a constitutional right to film police. So the use by police to try to get these videos taken down are a nefariously clever attempt to using copyright law to stifle the public’s rights.
But that doesn’t mean it’s okay when private citizens do it. Even if in pursuit of a good cause. Just as it’s not right when people abuse the DMCA to take down content being used for harassment and abuse, it’s not right to try to use copyright to block people from being able to film you.
David Hogg is a prominent activist on gun control issues. Whether or not you agree with his positions, no one can deny that he’s been incredibly successful in drawing attention to the causes he supports. And, with that, of course, comes a tremendous level of harassment from those who are opposed to his policy ideas. And, that, in part, is coming because he’s had such an impact with his activism.
That said, over the weekend, he gleefully talked about how he was using this same “one weird copyright trick” to stop opposing activists from being able to do anything with the video they were trying to take of him.
If you can’t see the images of the tweets, here’s what he said:
Today in DC- I had a Republican come up with a video camera trying to harass me. I immediately started playing under the Sea from the Little mermaid. He said “why are you playing that music you know it’s copyrighted so I can’t use this video right?” I said “yeah that’s the point”
I love copyright law
Thank you to Disney’s copyright lawyers!
While this is nowhere near as problematic as public officials doing this to prevent the exercise of rights, it’s still problematic. It’s normalizing, and even cheering on, the abuse of copyright law for the purpose of stifling speech.
I tweeted something about this and received some pushback, so I wanted to respond to a few points people raised about this:
Is this really copyright abuse or just taking advantage of others already abusing the system?
It’s a bit of both. To me, any use of copyright law to deliberately stifle speech is an abuse of copyright law. That the copyright system is so broken as to make this easy to do is also a criticism of the system and previous abuses, but it doesn’t excuse those jumping in to support and normalized this activity.
Yeah, but he gets so much abuse, so it’s okay.
Yes, he, like many prominent outspoken people, gets an unfair level of abuse. But that’s no excuse to abuse some other law to try to silence people. Once again, it normalizes the activity and makes sure more and more people will abuse copyright law in this same way. And that’s not good. If you think he receives an unfair level of abuse and harassment, focus on ways to deal with that that don’t involve encouraging further abuse of other laws.
Well maybe this will help demonstrate the problems of copyright law, and get them fixed.
Which seems more likely? Congress fixing broken copyright law? Or Congress and lots of others getting excited about new ways to exploit this “feature” of copyright law to their own benefit. It’s the latter and no one seriously thinks the former is going to happen.
Copyright law is used for censorship all the time. It’s good at that. That doesn’t mean we should embrace it or support it. And it definitely does not mean we should be normalizing that kind of abuse.