Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Mesa PD will violate copyright and your rights, too, while they're at it

In what wouldn't be the first Twitter-related cop blunder we've cataloged, the Mesa PD -- fresh from the debut of its crime reporting app that might just spy on its users -- may have made another social media boo-boo.

Early Sunday morning, the Mesa PD posted an update to its Twitter feed announcing an addition to the MPD's facebook photo section.


Clicking on the link in the tweet delivers you to the Mesa PD's photo album, specifically a folder designated "Mesa Police Crime Scene Specialist published her first article".  In this album, Mesa cops have uploaded scans of Christine Lowenhagen entire article, including the front page of the journal.

Is this posting legal?  Is it a copyright violation?  The International Association for Identification is the organization that publishes the JFI.  A search of the IAI website brings up a pdf of official "Publication Guidelines" which mostly deals with style for writers.  However, one part does seem relevant.  It reads, "The JFI is liberal in allowing the noncommercial reprinting of articles from the JFI, especially to the IAI divisions."

While the Mesa PD may be noncommercial, Facebook certainly is not, and that's where the post was made.  Further, the "divisions" cited are regional or state associations of the IAI, so the instructions appear to be granting permission for these sub-groups that run their own independent pages to post articles.  The IAI's website itself has a list of costs for access, which line up comparably with the typically outrageous figures scholarly journals commonly charge for reading to their publications. Subscriptions for institutions, for example, are just over 200 dollars.

We emailed Alan McRoberts, the editor of the Journal of Forensic Identification, and he responded to our request for more specifics on their policy, writing, "All requests to reprint must be specific (i.e., naming the paper to be reprinted) and specify where it is to be reprinted. Each request will be considered individually."

The question then becomes whether this permission was granted.  The posting of scans suggests not.  We followed up, asking if the organization had specifically received a request for permission to post from either the Mesa PD or Christine Lowenhagen.

Mr. McRoberts replied this afternoon and provided this clarification:
Two years ago, our board of directors approved a policy regarding reprinting material from the JFI. Part of that policy indicates that "Only JFI articles that are at least six months old at the time permission is requested will be considered." The recent publication (May/June 2013) of the article from Ms. Lowenhagen is not eligible to be considered for reprinting until the end of the year. At that time, I would have to evaluate the venue (e.g., IAI division newsletter, webpage, blog, or facebook) for reprinting before making a decision regarding permission.

Going by this response, it certainly seems reasonable to conclude that the MPD did not get permission and if they had, such wouldn't have been granted for at least six months. 

When you think about it, the Mesa PD appears to be violating copyright law in the same exact way that an information activist like Jason Swartz did, activism that led the police and Feds to crack down on him quite harshly.  In fact, it was these kinds of high charges and artificially limited access common for professional journals that drove Swartz to download for online release thousands of JSTOR documents in 2011. 

This act of protest in turn led the US government to charge him with several serious crimes, levying the threat of many decades in prison against him.  His supporters cite this overly-vigorous prosecution as what drove him to suicide.  One might even go further, and invoke the arrest and imprisonment of Jeremy Hammond, the Antisec militant recently sentenced for releasing Arizona police documents in protest of racist policing.  Police in Arizona were not too keen on forgiving his internet breeches of legality.

This selective enforcement of the law, where the Mesa PD gets to decide just which laws it will enforce as well as which laws it will obey, is a problem that can't be ignored.  Just as we see it in their online activities, we see it likewise reflected in the very real world recent arrest and brutal beating of Matatangi Tai (see also: here, here).  Mesa cops have a lot of leeway when it comes to enforcement of law, but in the case of Tai, the cops were not interested in being forgiving, and so what amounted to a trespassing call, thanks to needlessly aggressive policing, turned into a violent attack on a someone who very-likely was mentally ill and unable to understand even that he was violating the law.  Tai, after all, was in a convenience store claiming he was there for his medication.  Police, however, know exactly what they are doing.  Or they should. 

Mesa police were also not in a very forgiving mood when they stunned Joseph Moreno with a taser for taking too long to surrender.  After they put him in the back of a patrol car for 45 minutes, he began slurring his speech and sweating.  When the Fire Department showed up, he was taken to the hospital, where he died.

Moreno's sister put it this way:
"I feel there was other ways of doing it... I understand, from the police point of view. But, if there was more than 40 of them, or however many, and he was in a car. He wasn't running. He wasn't in the front seat of a car trying to run off. Their way of resisting (interpreting resisting) was that he wasn't responding."
In other words, the Mesa PD has two standards: one for itself and one for the rest of us.  The law is for us to obey and for them to interpret, and that can mean a death sentence for anyone who crosses their path.  It seems copyright isn't the only thing they'll violate.

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