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UPDATE: Document reveals Transport Canada claimed 'personal info was violated'

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UPDATE: Document reveals Transport Canada claimed 'personal info was violated'

Michael Geist. IMAGE 1 OF 2
Contact information of government officials is not subject to copyright: expert
UPDATE: Feb 5 - Xtra has obtained a copy of the copyright infringement takedown notice sent by Transport Canada to Scribd.

Under the United States' Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (DMCA), by which the San Francisco–based Scribd is bound, a website must immediately remove any document or file upon receipt of such a notice from a copyright holder.  The company is not legally allowed to evaluate the merits of such a notice, only the completeness of the information provided on it. Jason Bentley, in charge of copyright issues for Scribd, told Xtra, "Since the claim affidavit met all criteria for validity under the DMCA, we were required by law to remove the content."

Scribd is a document-hosting service that is used by Xtra and many other news outlets to easily share original documents in their entirety.  Documents are uploaded to Scribd's servers and then can be embedded in other web pages. 

The takedown notice was filed by Transport Canada senior communications advisor Maryse Durette and concerned on-the-record email correspondence between her and an Xtra reporter. (Xtra has since pasted the text of those emails onto this page, in place of the embedded Scribd document.) 

“This wasn’t a copyright claim at all, but they used copyright legislation to get it removed,” said Michael Geist, a University of Ottawa professor who holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-Commerce Law and who is an expert in copyright legislation, on Feb 1. 
 

The relevant section of Durette's notice states:

"I am the author of a letter to a reporter, that has now been posted on Scribd.

My personal info being violated by material available upon your site at the following URL(s): http://www.scribd.com/doc/80006767/Transport-Canada-Response.

The letter was sent to reporter as info not for publication as is, including my phone number, available to anyone to use. I have since been the target of hateful phone messages.

I have a good faith belief that the use of this material in such a fashion is not authorized by the copyright holder, the copyright holder's agent, or the law; I state that the information contained in this notification is accurate."

Contact information — and certainly not the contact information of a government official — is not subject to copyright, Geist said. Nor is this specific information private, as it is publicly displayed in the Government of Canada's online employee directory.

Although emails may indeed be subject to copyright, because Durette is a government employee who authored these messages as part of her job, they are subject to Crown copyright. And works subject to Crown copyright may be reproduced for public non-commercial purposes. (In this context, "non-commercial" means the work isn't being sold.)

For Geist, the DMCA represents a “shoot first and aim later” approach, under which a mere allegation of copyright infringement is sufficient to have content removed from the web.

“That’s the problem with these systems and why we have to guard against them coming in to Canada. [Scribd’s] obligation is simply to respond. If they intervene, that’s when they face potential liability," Geist said. 

“That’s US law. One lesson we should take from this situation is not emulating those laws here in Canada.”

The DMCA also provides for a counter-notification mechanism, through which the person or organization that posted a document can contest an infringement claim and have a document restored.  

Feb 2 - Online file hosting service removes Xtra document after complaint

A spokesperson for Transport Canada says the federal office asked for a document to be removed from Xtra’s website because it contained the direct phone number for one of its media relations spokespeople, a number that is publicly available online. Xtra had uploaded the document to Scribd, a popular free online service for hosting files and embedding them into web posts.

Ministry spokesperson Maryse Durette submitted a copyright claim under the US’s Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to San Francisco–based Scribd on Feb 1. Shortly afterward, Scribd removed the document from its website, citing “copyright infringement.”

“We try to limit the calls to media folks,” says the ministry’s media relations manager, Patrick Charette. “[Durette] is not a public inquiry person. She is a media relations person."


The document contained email correspondence between Durette and Xtra’s reporter about a story relating to federal changes to flight regulations that activists say target transgender Canadians and could prevent them from boarding flights. The contact information is in Durette’s email signature line.

So why not just call the reporter to have the phone number removed?

“[Durette] took it upon herself late yesterday to contact Scribd. The issue should have been dealt with directly with you,” says Charette. 

Durette told staff at Scribd that the information was private. In fact, as a spokesperson for a federal ministry, her information is public.

“You’re right, it’s public. We are an office of the government,” Charette says. “We ask reporters to limit the publication of direct phone numbers and email addresses. We can’t manage calls from the public.”

Charette stressed repeatedly that the removal had nothing to do with the content. “I agree, this could have been done a different way,” he says. 

Scribd spokesperson Michelle Laird says Scribd is investigating the matter.

Michael Geist, a University of Ottawa professor who holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-Commerce Law, and who is an expert in copyright legislation, calls the situation “problematic.”

“So they used copyright claim legislation to get information removed that wasn’t a copyright claim at all,” he says. “They are essentially running counter to their own licence, which gave you the right to post that for public, non-commercial purposes.

“The over-broad use of these rules is exactly the kind of concern that many Canadians have raised. They are concerned that copyright reform may result in arbitrary takedowns of content. We need to guard against that. That has been the prime criticism of how the US system works, where there can be these arbitrary takedowns, and that sounds exactly like what happened here.”

While speaking to Xtra on the phone, Geist did a web search and easily found Durette’s direct phone number on the Transport Canada website.

“I just searched and found the 613-998-8344 easily. It’s all there,” he said. “It’s false for her to say that information isn’t otherwise publicly available. It’s very public. I found it in 10 seconds while talking to you.”
 
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Comments

The Point
@Michael, You miss the point by a mile. The point is simply this: an employee of the Government of Canada abused American Copyright law to have information removed. A notice containing false information, and signed by a member of the civil service, was sent to effect illegitimate legal outcome. This is extremely troubling.

Whether the desire to avoid publicizing that phone number was legitimate or not is irrelevant.
The gay, left wing version of Fox News
Xtra is just the gay, left wing version of Fox News. In the same way that Fox News will do anything to make Democrats and liberals look bad, Xtra will do anything to make Conservatives look bad.
Devil's Advocate
Okay, I know it's easy to just fly off the handle and automatically vilify any one and everyone in the government, but let's try to look at this objectively: Yes the phone number is available for those that are searching it, but so is the number and street address of anyone in Canada with a listed phone number. Does that give Xtra or any other news outlet the right to publish the name and street address of everyone they interview? No, and government officials are the same. Their numbers are available to be looked up, but when they're published it's a different matter.

If your job was to just deal with media, and then suddenly you're getting swamped with thousands of angry calls from general public, wouldn't you take some sort of step to try and stop it? Don't say you wouldn't because that's just an outright lie! Sure, they probably should have asked the reporter, but also objectively, this letter was not hosted on Xtra's servers so logically if you want into removed, you would go to the site hosting it for expediency.

I'm certainly not defending the government for getting this letter removed, but really, there needs to be some perspective in these articles, there can't just be editorial opinion after editorial opinion. If there is, Xtra is going to turn into a tabloid or Fox News or something.
Curious...
... about two things. First, why does the author of this piece not identify herself as the reporter who had the initial interaction with the ministry?

Second, what information do we have that suggests the government didn't want to readers to see the document, other than a general distrust of Harper's Conservatives?

They misused the copyright claim, obviously. That's serious. But does it mean they didn't want the public to see the document? It was email correspondence between a reporter and a government employee whose job it is to give information to the media, could they possibly have believed it wouldn't be made public?
Key Difference
@Cry me a river,

It's not the same thing because Xtra's articles are subject to copyright. Phone numbers are not subject to copyright.
Hateful Prime Minister
I'm afraid this is just the opening salvo against gays from this pathetic Prime Minister. We will need good legal advice from now on from our gay community who are lawyers. And there are lots of them - so lets hear from them. Don't believe petty little French Canadian public servants in Ottawa understand these legal issues. They rarely have high school diplomas. Harper will try again and again to take away our rights. He is a sad pentacostalist who thinks we are evil and Gods wants him to fight Gays. His government should stop wintering in Israel and instead champion Canadian causes.
Cry me a river
Xtra did the same thing. Ask Matt Mills or Ken Popert. They had their lawyers make a similar request after one of their articles was posted to another site.
Gimme a break.
The important detail omitted is also copyrighted
Funny how nothing in this story explains why these documents were ever newsworthy in the first place.

(Hint: trans people?)
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