Noneck, The Peoples Republic of China and Fair Use

My friend and fellow-NY-techer Noel "Noneck" Hidalgo was deported from China last week. He got rounded up as one of the people documenting the "Free Tibet" protests in Tienanmen square. Here's the video he shot:

What's interesting is that Facebook seems to be censoring Noneck's posts about his deportation -- his original status updates were deleted but the comments referencing them stayed. My friend Elizabeth observed that all of Noneck's Facebook status updates that referenced "deportation" have been changed to

a:6:{i:0;i:672053;i:1;i:672054;i:2;i:672056;
i:3;i:672057;i:4;i:672058;i:5;i:672059;}. 10:08am Co

Anyone familiar with what this could mean? At first I thought it was geo-coordinates, but that doesn't seem likely as they aren't recognizable longitude / latitude numbers. Update: Here's a screenshot:

Olympic Rings from Wikipedia

In other news, the IOC is now using copyright to assert ownership over their trademarked logo. They have sent a take-down notice to YouTube demanding that video of a demonstration in NYC be removed since it uses their logo. YouTube is in the habit of taking any videos down if there's a copyright claim, so it is not surprising they obliged the IOC. But what's not clear is why the IOC thinks they have a copyright claim over their logo. Usually the only infringement claims regarding logos are founded on trademark law, not copyright law.

Copyright is designed to restrict use of creative original works by granting a limited monopoly to the works creator. In the United States any work copyrighted prior to 1923 is in the public domain. Even if the Olympic ring logo was copyrighted at the time of its inception (1913), it would now have lapsed into the public domain, so the IOC wouldn't have a copyright claim to it.

Wikipedia seems to have come to a fairly schizophrenic conclusion about this. On the one hand, it states that the logo is in the public domain. But on the other hand, it says the use of the logo is restricted by the IOC's manual, which is a whopping 105 pages. Pages 20 and 27 have information about how the logo is used, but it's not totally clear to me what laws the IOC believes protects their copyright in a logo created prior to 1923. Wikipedia also states that the logo is an insignia and its use is restricted and is independent of any copyright claims. I've heard that the IOC will simply refuse to allow a country to bid in the city-selection-process if they feel that their rights are not being protected there.

If anything the logo is protected by trademark law, which is designed to give legal recourse to manufacturers and corporations against counterfeits and confusingly similar marks. Typically use of logos for journalistic purposes or even incidental use by anyone else, is not grounds for claims of trademark infringement. Thus, it makes little sense that a video could infringe on trademarks (so long as they weren't using an NBC logo in the logo in the corner, etc.).

My feeling is that the IOC likes to squash Tibet-related videos involving the IOC's logo. Their dubious DMCA take down notice is a clear example of a corporation using copyright to stifle free speech.

Anyway, I am not a lawyer, so this is shouldn't be construed as anything but a lay opinion.

12 comments

  1. jonathanpberger

    > Wikipedia seems to have come to a fairly schizophrenic conclusion about this. On the one hand, it states

    No surprise that wiki'dia is schitzo; it's less an "it" than a "them". This is a question for lawyers, not wikipedia.

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  4. Mark Jaquith

    That text is serialized PHP data. Specifically, it is an array (think of an array as a "group") of six integers: 672053, 672054, 672056, 672057, 672058, and 672059. No idea what these mean, but as they are more or less in succession, I'd guess that their ID numbers for a database table.

    Facebook is built on PHP, so it's possible this is just a technical glitch.

  5. Brian Chirls

    This is awful, of course, but not very surprising.

    Unfortunately, those Facebook status updates aren't particularly interesting. That's a PHP "serialized" (i.e. converted to text) representation of an array of six consecutive numbers. They might be indexes from a database, which would be useless to anyone who didn't have access to that particular database. I can't tell whose software screwed up the status updates, but whoever wrote it, it looks pretty buggy.

    As for YouTube taking down the video, that has very little to do with whether or not it's actually infringing. The DMCA requires that YouTube take down anything that anyone claims is a copyright infringement, so long as the claim fits a certain set of criteria. It's not up to YouTube to decide whether it's actually infringing; they're just passing the message along. However, your friend can submit a counter-claim to YouTube, which they have to pass back to the IOC. The IOC can then either ignore the counter-claim, in which case YouTube has to put the video back up, or they can sue your friend, in which case a court decides whether infringement took place.

    In my opinion (and experience - this has happened to me), this part of the DMCA, like most of it, is an awful law that presumes guilt rather than innocence. But at least it provides a way to defend yourself.

    YouTube has a pretty good reference on the law and their related policies here:
    http://www.youtube.com/t/dmca_policy

    I just wish they provided more prominent links to resources and tools to help victims of DMCA abuse to defend themselves.

  6. Josh

    You may be jumping to conclusions about the basis for IOC's claim. Have they said that was the reason? The video appears to be back up, is it possible it was misidentified?

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  10. Ian Bicking

    It's also at least possible that the bug was a bug in some kind of censorship software. Often a piece of the site like that isn't well exercised, or regularly tested, so it's more likely that it'll have bugs. Also, of course bugs are a good cover for behavior they don't want to be seen as deliberate. But it's also entirely possible it's just a bug.

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