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Protecting State Secrets Through Copyright 142

An anonymous reader writes "The United States has pursued Bradley Manning with full force for his role in supplying classified documents to WikiLeaks, in part because of the substantial difficulty in going after the organization directly. Criminal statutes generally deployed against those who leak classified government documents — such as the Espionage Act of 1917 — are ill-equipped to prosecute third-party international distribution organizations like WikiLeaks. One potential tool that could be used to prosecute WikiLeaks is copyright law. The use of copyright law in this context has rarely been mentioned, and when it has, the approach has been largely derided by experts, who decry it as contrary to the purposes of copyright. But a paper just published in the Stanford Journal of International Law describes one novel way the U.S. could use copyright to go after WikiLeaks and similar leaking organizations directly--by bringing suit in foreign jurisdictions."
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Protecting State Secrets Through Copyright

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  • Public domain? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Admiral Burrito ( 11807 ) on Sunday May 20, 2012 @09:37AM (#40056641)
    If I remember right, government works automatically fall into public domain. Wikipedia seems to think so too: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_domain#Government_works [wikipedia.org]
  • Re:Public domain? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by AliasMarlowe ( 1042386 ) on Sunday May 20, 2012 @09:56AM (#40056737) Journal

    If I remember right, government works automatically fall into public domain. Wikipedia seems to think so too: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_domain#Government_works [wikipedia.org]

    TFA deals with exactly that. The US government is allowed to hold copyrights which are assigned to it, including the copyright of works by outside contractors (many activities producing "government" documents are outsourced, even in Defense). TFA conjectures that some of the documents disclosed by Wikileaks would fall into this class, so that Wikileaks could be pursued in foreign courts for copyright violations. Also, the US government is explicitly allowed to assert copyright over its own works outside the US. So in principle almost any unauthorized disclosure of US government documents outside the US would be a violation of US government copyright.

    It's a Byzantine, almost Stasi-like approach to quashing what are probably truthful revelations. One would hope this interpretation would be thrown out by any reasonable court in the EU. It would be a faint hope indeed in many countries (such as the UK).

  • Proving ownership (Score:5, Interesting)

    by perl6geek ( 1867146 ) on Sunday May 20, 2012 @09:56AM (#40056741)
    The US would have to prove ownership first, thus authenticating the leaked documents. Not quite what they want, is it?
  • Re:Been done. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by budgenator ( 254554 ) on Sunday May 20, 2012 @02:54PM (#40058331) Journal

    That always gets me laughing every time I hear it, because you can't copyright facts, only creative works, so you know what that says about CoS.

  • Re:Been done. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by rtb61 ( 674572 ) on Monday May 21, 2012 @12:47AM (#40061377) Homepage

    The catch with copyright, firstly you must make the claim that all documents exposed are true and factually (they already shot themselves in the foot with that when they claimed in the first few weeks it was all a lie) and secondly you have to claim damages, that you wish to sell the documents at the copyrighted ones are harming your revenue (now we all know that is not true and if it was, what is Bradley Manning being accused of, copyright infringement).

    All of this desperate clutching at straws to bury the documents indicates two more things. Firstly the reality exposed in the documents undermines future lies they intend to tell. Secondly they can not hide under national security, the crimes exposed and weaken the defence that the accused Bradley Manning was forced to publicly expose those crimes because, his superior officers were failing to do so. It is illegal to obey an illegal order and it is a criminal act, accessory after the fact, to hide crimes.

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