Automated Copyright Filters Being Used to Take Down the Mueller Report

For American’s, the Mueller report has considerable public interest. Now, one publisher is trying to wipe the whole report off the face of the Internet.

Censorship by copyright. It’s existence is vehemently denied by major corporate interests trying to ratchet up copyright laws. Of course, their denial doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Now we have yet another example of it happening.

In the United States, Robert Mueller and the greatly anticipated Mueller report is a major story in the United States. Mueller spent years investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 US election which saw Donald Trump scrape by and win the presidency thanks in part to a technicality in the electoral college vote.

Of course, as time went on, Trump kept repeating “no collusion” over and over again even as evidence mounted that something untoward happened. So, the US government created a team headed up by Robert Mueller to investigate whether or not any wrongdoing took place. After two years of investigation and multiple indictments, Mueller finished his investigation. He handed the report to Trump appointee William Barr, the US attorney general. Barr, in turn, issued a summary saying that there was no evidence of collusion.

Politically, that was never going to be satisfactory and Democrats demanded that the full report be released to the public. After some political wrangling, a redacted version was released – a development that is still not politically satisfactory. That redacted report has since circulated on the Internet. Given that this report is funded by taxpayers, for most people, it does belong in the public domain.

Several publishers have since put the redacted report up for sale as well. For one publisher, they felt that because they were selling something that they didn’t produce, they felt entitled to own the rights to it. According to surfacing reports, they are now utilizing automated takedowns of the report based on copyright. That has caused a number of advocates to become upset. From BoingBoing:

One or more of these publishers uploaded their copy of the Report to Scribd’s copyright filter, a fully automated system that does not include human review. We don’t know why the publisher uploaded something they didn’t have the rights to. Maybe they were being malicious and wanted to drive sales of their report; or maybe they just automatically upload everything they publish to every copyright filter they can find, and don’t bother to pay anyone to make sure they’re not claiming copyright over something they don’t own.

Whatever the reason, this immediately triggered mass takedowns of dozens of users’ copies of the report. Once Scribd received users complaints and was embarrassed by public disapprobation, it unblocked the text, and that’s fine — until the next time it happens.

Scribd is a relatively small platform. What happens when a broadcaster claims copyright over a key Trump gaffe on the eve of an election, and it doesn’t get unblocked until the election is over? What happens when a stock art company’s claims take down a photo of police brutality at a public demonstration because a bus-ad in the background uses one of its photos? What happens when your kid’s first steps can’t be shared with your family back home because they happened in a room with a cartoon playing on the TV?

Cory Doctorow points out that this is the kind of thing European’s have in store for them. Article 13, which was passed last month in spite of the near universal condemnation against it, requires platforms to institute similar filtering technology. False takedowns are already a regular occurrence on the web. With automatic filtering, such false takedowns will only be exacerbated. If you thought censorship by copyright was bad enough before, it’s only going to get a whole lot worse from here with these laws.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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