Updated! Massachusetts Police Dept. Files DMCA Takedowns On News Stories Using Mugshots Taken By Police

from the copyright-as-censorship dept

Update: We've written up a followup to this post, noting that the Chief of Police in Burlington insists that this was not done by them, and they have no problem with the press using these images. It would appear that someone else is abusing copyright law to try to block these stories -- and since the stories are about people being arrested, it's not hard to put together a list of people with motives to abuse copyright law in this manner. Please read the follow up post, before reading this original post below.

Here we are with yet another example of copyright as censorship. This one comes from the Shooting the Messenger blog, which dug up a fascinating story of how the Burlington, Massachusetts Police Department appears to be abusing copyright law to try to censor articles written about people they've arrested. Specifically, a representative from the police department has filed a bunch of DMCA notices with Google, targeting around 30 news stories, claiming the Police Department holds the copyright on the mugshots used in those stories. You can see one of the notices over at the Lumen Database, and you'll quickly notice that it's not like they're targeting fly-by-night websites, but all sorts of big name press outfits, including CBS, the Boston Herald and the Denver Post.
The explanation given is pretty silly too in that it's barely comprehensible:
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.
Now, as we've discussed in the past, works of the federal government are simply not subject to copyright law. When it moves down to the states, it's either not entirely clear or subject to specific state laws. And in Massachusetts, the rule is that "records created by governments are not copyrighted and are available for public use." Separately, in Massachusetts, it's been determined that mugshots are public records, meaning that the police department has even less control here. And of course, even if these images were subject to copyright protections, their use in reporting would clearly be fair use.

Assuming that Mike Ferrell actually represents the Burlington Police Department, it appears that he and the police department are flagrantly violating the law in an attempt to censor news stories in the public interest. If he doesn't represent the Burlington Police Department, he's also misrepresenting himself, and potentially committing perjury, as an official DMCA notice requires stating, under the penalty of perjury, that you're authorized on behalf of the copyright holder.

No matter what... something not good is happening here, and it's yet another in an increasingly long list of examples of censorship by copyright.

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  • identicon
    €­}{­®ØNا§, 18 Nov 2016 @ 9:43am

    your nation issssss soooo fooooked now

    comedy years begins.....shrtly

    Regardz
    €­}{­®ØNا§

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 18 Nov 2016 @ 9:45am

    Well read 'agent legal'

    Somebody with some actual sense might want to tell this idiot that 'are' is the plural of 'is', even when one is arguing what the definition of 'is' is.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      art guerrilla (profile), 18 Nov 2016 @ 10:32am

      Re: Well read 'agent legal'

      dear dog in heaven, i knew the piggies selected FOR the stupid, but that writing is by a 6th grader who failed language arts...
      (no comments from the peanut gallery, i can write rings around 90% of you, but this informal venue does not require 'standard'writing conventions...)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    ANON, 18 Nov 2016 @ 9:50am

    If...

    If there's no legal copyright holder, you are already committing perjury by claiming to represent one.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Nov 2016 @ 10:01am

    In A.D. 2101

    You forgot the signature to the notice:

    All Your Base Are Belong To Us
    You Have No Chance To Survive
    Make Your Time
    -Cats

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    WDS (profile), 18 Nov 2016 @ 10:05am

    The wording (bad english) in the notice sounds more like something from a internet scam originating from a third world country, than something a "Agent Legal" would produce.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Berenerd (profile), 18 Nov 2016 @ 10:07am

    And its my home town...I swear I don't know what my taxes are going to, it is certainly not to qualified employees. These are the same police that will give you a ticket for passing a car going below the speed limit on a 4 lane road and then not show up for court when you fight it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Nov 2016 @ 10:21am

    Thanks circumvention content:

    First order of business at the police department should be to take this person's keyboard away to prevent any further embarrassment.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    WDS (profile), 18 Nov 2016 @ 10:27am

    I predict that when the person sending this as Mike Ferrell is located, he is going to look a lot like someone in one of the mug shots, and this turns out to be an attempt at personal internet reputation management.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Nov 2016 @ 4:46pm

      Re:

      I wish I could rate this as insightful more than once. While it's certainly POSSIBLE that this notice came from Li'l Piggly Bo Peep, it's far more likely to be the work of someone who wants their mugshot hidden. The real question is whether said mugshot model did this themself, or whether it was done by a reputation management company.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    TheResidentSkeptic (profile), 18 Nov 2016 @ 10:40am

    I was right...

    "Idiocracy" was a documentary... just ahead of its time.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    orbitalinsertion (profile), 18 Nov 2016 @ 10:50am

    We are issuing a BOLO, with descriptions and photographs, for this team of five murderers, currently on a two day rampage, killing 17 individuals so far. What? No, you may not use or reprint that!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Nov 2016 @ 11:47am

    "...Mike Ferrell actually represents the Burlington Police..."

    Please, please, please, let this be true, if only so that we can quote it and cite it forever.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Slightly Cowardly Anonymous, 18 Nov 2016 @ 1:05pm

    Really? So Fake It Hurts

    There is no way (well, I shouldn't say that... stupid people do float and PD can be a big tank) this can be legit. This appears more like someone trying to do some reputation repair/concealment.

    Let's skip the fact no adult over the age of 18 who has passed high school and speaks English should of written that, never mind one who is supposedly "agent legal" for Burlington PD's "Intellectual Property, Piracy, Copyright/DMCA" should write. I don't have the time nor patience for that argument (but it factors into my end result).

    Only two stories were actually targeted. One about two 18 year-old men defacing a mosque and one about 9 men being arrested on a prostitution sting (both last November, 22nd and 23rd to be exact). Maybe they're just slow... police officers/public servants are not robots, after all.

    We'll move on to how one of the URL's cited as "infringing" is for http://www.jgpr.net/2015/11/22/9093/, or the site for John Guilfoil Public Relations. The PR firm for the police department, who also runs the "official" PD Wordpress (https://bpdsocialmedia.wordpress.com/, link is from the Burlington PD site at http://www.burlington.org/departments/police/index.php, we'll get to that in a moment). I would hope that the "agent legal" for the PD knows who the heck the PR firm for the PD is. Or maybe he doesn't.

    Next, let's address URLs. The take down notice cites burlingtonpolice.org as the original site others are infringing on (strangely, they claim there are a few stories that are infringed such as two men killing a woman and a string of jewelry heists but no infringing URLs for those are ever given). This would be a credible source, except, burlingtonpolice.org was registered 10-16-2016 to an AOL.com account. "Police departments used to use AOL!" I hear you, calm down. The problem is the "official" site for the police is bpd.org which redirects right to http://www.burlington.org/departments/police/index.php. Go check WhoIs... the record is pretty fudged. Whomever registered the site took the info from Burlington.org except the admin e-mail (a school system IT guy, but they used his phone number) while the legit bpd.org record uses the actual address for the department, was registered back in 1995, and the admin address appears to be an actual person with a burlmass.org address (which is slightly harder to verify, but appears legit as well). Doesn't help burlingtonpolice.org does not appear to be a site that's up at the moment (all URLs for source 404, site appears to be not setup).

    So we have someone who is barely literate trying to take down two stories on sites that include the PD PR firm using a source URL that looks mighty suspicious to very light investigation? I know the trend is lynch the government agents/employees/departments first but let's try to make an informed decision (something this site often asks people to do). This looks more like a duck pretending to be a horse, but it's still quacking... did anyone bother calling the PD (using the contact number on their page) to see if this dude even works for them?

    TL;DR - I did basic detective work (on a police story), found the "agent legal" is fairly non-credible (as did Google). Stow pitchforks for now, but keep them handy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Spyder, 18 Nov 2016 @ 2:25pm

    Mike Ferrell also knows a Nigerian Prince who wants to give you some money to mind for a short period...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Tim A, 18 Nov 2016 @ 3:21pm

    Yoda?

    Is that you?

    Sheesh.. looks like someone threw a bunch of buzz words into a pot and stirred them up.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    lars626 (profile), 18 Nov 2016 @ 4:49pm

    Language skills

    The whole thing looks like it was written by someone with limited English skills, as in foreign and with little practice or coaching.

    Either Burlington farmed this out or somebody didn't like a story about them and decided to impersonate the cops. If it is the second case they will then have the Burlington cops after them for a federal violation.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Nov 2016 @ 4:54pm

      Re: Language skills

      So, besides perjury, of which I've yet to see a single prosecution for in regards to false DMCA claims, what other federal offences would this guy be on the hook for?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 18 Nov 2016 @ 10:14pm

        Re: Re: Language skills

        I don't think this guy cares about federal offenses because he most likely isn't in the US. I mean, he obviously doesn't speak English. You might get him for something like wire fraud, since he used the Internet to do this.

        But if he WAS arrested, this would be a case where you might actually see a perjury conviction. One, this isn't just a case of misidentifying infringing material or disregarding fair use - he is (I assume, based on his non-English and Slightly Cowardly Anonymous's research) falsely claiming to be the agent of the copyright holder, which means the perjury clause actually applies. Two, he's falsely claiming to represent a *police department*. So it's less likely that law enforcement will just ignore this like they might with something else.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Groaker (profile), 19 Nov 2016 @ 6:34am

    The Supremes said that the police were free to make up fairy stories as though they were law, no matter now inane it was. It is up to the courts to turn those tales into law.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), 21 Nov 2016 @ 10:16am

    Follow up post

    We've now done a followup post on this, after the Chief of Police in Burlington has insisted that they do not work with anyone by that name, and certainly have not issued any DMCA takedowns.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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