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Swedish Police Shoe Database May Tread On Copyright 156

Posted by timothy
from the heel-to-toe-heel-to-toe dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The Swedish police, who have been instrumental in various raids against file-sharing sites, may have a bit of a piracy problem on their own hands. It seems they wanted to put together a database of shoe print information for matching crime scene shoe prints to particular shoe types. To do so, they used images found online, and some Swedish copyright experts have noted that this appears to violate Swedish copyright law. The police claim there's an exception for police investigations, but people (and some shoe companies) are pointing out that creating a database isn't about an investigation."
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Swedish Police Shoe Database May Tread On Copyright

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  • by dreampod (1093343) on Thursday September 09, 2010 @07:22PM (#33528816)

    While I couldn't comment about how Swedish law treats such things in the United States or Canada this would be protected if the shoe prints were gathered directly rather than using online photos. A compilation of facts and details regarding the pattern and arrangement of shoe treads is definitely safe territory protected by the fact it does not inhibit the market for the original goods (unless some shoe company really wants to argue that their major clients purchase them to avoid being identified by the police), isn't for commercial gain, and does not replicate the original in any way.

    Personally I would be very cautious about opposing something like this even if a literal interpretation of the law were to support this belief. Opposition to such a non-offensive, common sense proposal is likely to have governments write in specific loopholes to allow such action which could be discovered to have unintended side-effects that actually harm the business.

  • Re:Sure it is! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dreampod (1093343) on Thursday September 09, 2010 @07:25PM (#33528846)

    Amongst professional criminals I'm sure that this sort of thing is common but when dealing with crimes of passion or low value crimes it becomes much more useful. After all when you own only a pair or two of shoes of a style and become a suspect, having just replaced them with brand new shoes is very suspicious. As well for something like a convenience store robbery it starts to make it even more financially worthless when you steal $50 and have to replace a $30 pair of shoes.

  • Re:Sure it is! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Chris Burke (6130) on Thursday September 09, 2010 @07:26PM (#33528850) Homepage

    As much as I agree with your intent, this is a lot more like having phone tapping equipment available, in the case that it is required, rather than actively tapping you.

    Er, well, neither really applies. They are actually collecting data, but it's data regarding a type of forensics, not data related to any individuals. It's more like figuring out how one might go about tapping phones.

    It's really not a civil liberties issue like warrant-less phone tapping is. I was just riffing on the idea of claiming you need the data for "an investigation" when there's no such specific investigation, just hypothetical future ones. :)

    The whole database idea seems sort of goofy to me though, can't see it being terribly effective. (how many people wear adidas superstars?)

    I can think of cases where being able to identify the type of shoe that made a print would be helpful, especially if it helps tie a particular suspect to the scene. A print made by a work boot that's standard issue at the company a suspect works for could be a good bit of evidence. A print made by a shoe so common it could be made by anyone is not so good. But it's better to know that than have it be unknown if the print could mean anything or not.

  • Re:Process (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ScrewMaster (602015) * on Thursday September 09, 2010 @07:27PM (#33528862)

    Had they just requested sample prints, many (most?) shoe companies would probably have been happy to provide them with a full list - not because they had to, but because its a simple enough request to comply with. By doing the work themselves they ended up with less useful data that's, quite possibly, illegal to use.

    Sigh...

    Well, I'm not a lawyer (certainly not a Swedish lawyer) but it seems likely that if the cops used a database that was illegally garnered, they might find any cases using that information compromised in some way. Not very smart on their part, any way you look at this.

  • by cptdondo (59460) on Thursday September 09, 2010 @07:27PM (#33528874) Journal

    I think you missed the point. The tread isn't the issue; the pictures are copyrighted by someone. You can't go on-line, scarf a whole bunch of pictures off the web, and then use them to conduct your business.

    I can't do that with images, music, or anything else, and neither can any other agency. Otherwise, I could just download all the music in the world, and claim that I am building a database for future use in identifying stolen music.

    Doesn't work that way.

  • Re:Sure it is! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by h4rr4r (612664) on Thursday September 09, 2010 @07:29PM (#33528902)

    So you think the police can just steal phone tapping equipment? I do believe they have to buy it, like they would with these pictures. Either they are all for IP or not.

  • This is not news (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 09, 2010 @07:32PM (#33528930)

    Its just bait for people who are anal about their data privacy and people who think they're so important that the big brother is looking at them and singling them out. Remember, you're 1/6,000,000,000. You pretty much don't exist.

  • by bennomatic (691188) on Thursday September 09, 2010 @07:46PM (#33529062) Homepage
    If an unusual shoe print is discovered at multiple crime scenes within a certain location range and time span, it may lead investigators to look for connections between those crimes which may help identify an individual associated with all of them. Without something to connect the different crimes, it may be more likely that the an individual responsible for or at least involved in all of them would be more difficult to identify.

    There are up sides and down sides to what I describe here, but it's silly to suggest that being able to cross-reference shoe prints AND identify their make/model is not a good idea for law enforcement.

    Heck, they still use blood type to narrow suspect lists, if I understand correctly. And each blood type accounts for a much wider swath of the population than, I would assume, almost any shoe print. Maybe Converse Chucks, which have pretty much remained the same over the last 50 years, would have enough presence among wearers to be no more common than, say, O- blood, but otherwise, active wearers of any given shoe print probably number in the millions at any given time, not the hundreds of millions.
  • by bennomatic (691188) on Thursday September 09, 2010 @07:54PM (#33529126) Homepage

    Hmm, perhaps I need to start selling treadless crime-shoes.

    Maybe you could get police departments to invest in them, since they'd be able to catch the perps as the slip-slide around corners during foot chases.

  • Re:Sure it is! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by shaitand (626655) on Thursday September 09, 2010 @07:58PM (#33529178) Journal

    As much as I oppose anything that strengthens the police state (any police state really) I feel compelled to point something out. Shoeprints being part of a future police investigation is about as hypothetical as my claim that should I throw a rock in the air it will fall back down.

    The volume of previous observations that can be found by searching through police files where shoe prints were in evidence is pretty substantial.

  • by Artraze (600366) on Thursday September 09, 2010 @10:18PM (#33530012)

    And yet, if I download songs for my personal, decidedly private and not business use, I'm subject to damages of hundreds of dollars for each instance.

    The point isn't that this is _bad_, but if they're going to go around busting down doors because people are sharing copyrighted works for personal use, they shouldn't be violating copyright for their institutional use and pretending it's OK.

  • by DurendalMac (736637) on Friday September 10, 2010 @12:01AM (#33530540)
    What the hell are you smoking? The photographer was already paid by the shoe company, you dope, at least in cases where it was pulled by shoe company sites. The shoe company gets their return by having a picture of their shoe for people who want one and consider a purchase. How in the HELL does an internal database of these pictures in ANY way impact that business?

    And when was the last time someone tried to sell a picture of a goddamned shoe tread?
  • Re:Sure it is! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by opposabledumbs (1434215) on Friday September 10, 2010 @02:07AM (#33531092)

    For me, the issue here is the use of copyright law to stop this. I don't see why the police would have to get a copyright exemption for the creation of a database, as they are not planning to make or sell shoes with similar patterns.

    As far as I can see it, this is research of an academic nature. Now, if people want to go after the police here in a civil liberties and person's rights issue - and I don't think there's an issue with these in this case anyway, because I don't see how the shoes you wear now, or may buy in the future, are unique enough to qualify as rights-qualifying - then that's fine. But copyright this is manifestly not.

  • by Aceticon (140883) on Friday September 10, 2010 @04:28AM (#33531640)

    It's still a copyright violation when an individual (thus not a business) downloads music or software for the purpose of evaluation (thus not for profit and with the intent of paying for it later) without the copyright holder's authorization.

    Similarly, if a charity downloads images from the net and uses them in a campaign to call people's attention to problem X, it's still a copyright violation.

    Copyright legislation still it illegal to copy something without authorization from the copyright holder even if only not-for-profit uses and with the best of intentions.

    This is not just a peculiarity of Swedish Copyright laws.

    I would reckon that this is probably one of the biggest reasons why so many of us here at /. are against Copyrights and other forms of Intellectual Property: it restricts and punishes common, not for profit uses of things like sounds, images and text.

  • by Kidbro (80868) on Friday September 10, 2010 @05:44AM (#33531928)

    While the market for pictures of shoes is smaller than that for music, it obviously exists. Otherwise these pictures wouldn't have been taken in the first place, and the police would not have wanted copies of them (that's the definition of a market, after all).

    Is there some magic clause somewhere which says that copyright infringement only becomes a crime if your estimated target audience exceeds a certain number?

    And for the record, I'm a Swedish resident. I think our police have done the morally right thing in this case, but that aspect has never been relevant when it comes to copyright law, and in particular not the Swedish police's behavior in regards to it. If there's any organisation I expect to follow the letter, rather than the spirit of the law, it's the police.

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