Search results for: censorship

Nina PaleyQCO Artist-in-Residence Nina Paley did an AMA (“Ask Me Anything”) on Reddit today, for “Fair Use” Week:

“Cartoonist, animator, and activist Nina Paley here to talk about making art and fair use!”

She was joined by lawyer Sherwin Siy of Public Knowledge.

My favorite exchange from the AMA:

Q: Hi Nina! Big fan of Sita Sings the Blues. As you may probably be aware, the right-wing moral policing is at an all time high in India. What are your thoughts on censorship and its implications on artists?

A: Censorship: all the more reason to keep my work Free, open and decentralized. Centralized distribution is easy to censor. Decentralized distribution is impossible to censor.

Q: Is there such a thing as good censorship?


See the full AMA here.

Striped nanoparticle images, except for the censored parts.A band of researchers has been tirelessly trying to demonstrate that a body of scientific work which rests on a paper from over 10 years ago is completely wrong. The only problem is, their argument isn’t being allowed to stand or fall on its merits — instead, copyright restrictions are interfering with their ability to make their case at all.

The “stripy nanoparticle” saga begins with a 2004 publication in the journal Nature Materials (DOI: 10.1038/nmat1116) from Francesco Stellacci’s lab, describing a method for synthesizing small gold nanoparticles — particles on the order of 10 nanometers in size — that are coated with alternating “striped” domains of two different chain-like molecules attached to their surface.

While it wasn’t surprising that those specific types of chain-like molecules attach to the surface of the small gold nanoparticles, it was surprising (to some scientists) that the chains would order themselves into such organized striped patterns. So surprising that Raphael Levy, a researcher from the University of Liverpool, took a critical look at the data behind the conclusions in the 2004 paper. He believes that the evidence for the existence of these striped nanoparticles is the result of spurious observations that likely originate from poor experimental technique and cherry-picking of statistical data.

After extensive delays in the peer reviewed publication process, Levy’s first response was eventually published in the journal Small (DOI: 10.1002/smll.201001465), three years after the response had been first submitted to Nature Materials for publication. It was around then that Levy began blogging to focus attention on the topic as well as on more generalized shortcomings of scientific publishing process. The blog attracted discussion from a number of other researchers and spurred writeups in the scientific press.

Since that time, Julian Stirling has authored a paper along with Levy and a group of other researchers that has provided a comprehensive critical analysis of  Stellacci’s 2004 paper and related work that followed.  Stirling et al.’s “Critical assessment of the evidence for striped nanoparticles” was deposited on the open access preprint server arXiv, and became the most discussed paper on the popular post-publication peer review site PubPeer. The paper was also accepted for publication in the open access journal PLOS ONE.

What does this have to do with copyright?

In order to make their case to the reader, Stirling et al. need to reuse figures from Stellacci’s earlier work, so that the comparisons and alleged errors can be clearly communicated. The problem is that publishing houses like the the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), John Wiley & Sons, Nature Publishing Group and the American Chemical Society must grant permission to make use of these figures for PLOS to republish them, as PLOS publishes under the freedom-friendly Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) license, and its readers depend on what they receive from PLOS ONE being reuseable under terms no more restrictive than that.

At the time of writing, only the RSC has granted permission. Wiley has responded in the comments at Stirling’s blog, saying that while they’ll allow re-use with no fee under standard copyright, they won’t simply relicense the images to be compatible with PLOS ONE’s non-restrictive distribution policy.  (What Wiley actually says is that they are “unable to change [the images’] copyright status”, which is simply false.)  It isn’t yet clear how this will be resolved.  Offering the image at no fee for this one use is not a particularly helpful move on Wiley’s part: the restrictions would still be quite onerous, because Wiley’s one-off exception would not be passed along to PLOS ONE’s readers — instead, they too would have to ask Wiley for permission if they wanted to use the figures in a scientific critique… and so on, ad infinitum.  Creating a gatekeeper does not always create tolls, but it does force everyone to at least stop at the tollbooth before proceeding, and that’s exactly the problem here.  Wiley’s “rights department” (that is, their restrictions department) has inserted itself into scientific discussions where it has nothing to contribute and can only hamper the flow of communication.

Stirling et al.’s frustration is tangible — and they clearly understand that the culprit is censorship implemented via copyright:

“The traditional publishers who published the work we’re critiquing can’t censor our paper now, can they? It isn’t their journal, so they can’t refuse to review/publish it … But they still have one trick up their sleeve. Copyright. They own the copyright on the papers we criticise, and many of the new open-access journals they hate so much use Creative Commons licensing. They have the right to refuse permission to reuse parts of their figures. But just how can anyone write a self-contained critical article about data misrepresented in figures without being able to include at least some of the original results for critique and analysis?”

     — from

“It beggars belief that the scientific publishing system is so screwed up that this type of farce can happen.”

     — from

“Dear publishers (@plosone, @WileyExchanges @NatureMaterials @J_A_C_S) I don’t want to become a lawyer – plse just sort this mess – quick”

     — from

These events clearly illustrate how copyright restrictions are not just a problem for cultural production. Copyright interferes just as much with the clear and referential communication needed for the healthy functioning of the scientific process. The point is not that Levy and his colleagues are right or wrong. The point is that whether they are right or wrong should be a matter of science, not censorship.

Crossposted from

This morning a friend shared with me some amusing American Sign Language videos, and in return I wanted to share with him my favorite ASL video of all time: B. Storm’s interpretation of the Gnarls Barkley song Crazy. Only I couldn’t because it was gone. Why? Because “This video contains content from WMG (Warner Music Group), who has blocked it on copyright grounds.” This is appalling for many reasons, not least of which being the video is almost certainly fair use.

WMG youtube block message

Copying is not theft, but censorship is. When a video is blocked, banned, erased, or otherwise censored, we don’t have it any more. The commons is robbed. When B. Storm copied the song Crazy into his video, WMG’s copies were still there. When WMG censored B. Storm’s video, it was gone.

I couldn’t accept that such a great video was simply gone, so I attempted to recreate and re-share the original video. I found a silent version and combined it with the song, which I captured from the official video using Audio Hijack Pro (having written that, I expect storm troopers to bust down my door any minute now). Unfortunately its sync was a little off; soundtracks end up slightly different lengths and speeds due to all the different kinds of compression out there, and the song I captured was slightly longer than what B. Storm had on his original video. Fortunately another web search, using different terms, led me to this website of videos curated for deaf kids, which miraculously contained the unmolested video embedded from weebly. This I was able to download, and then re-upload to Vimeo where it’s easier to share and embed. Of course it could be taken down at any time, so get it while you can:

Great art like this matters too much to passively let monopolists erase it from our common culture. When you find good videos online, consider making local back-up copies. We never know what’s going to be censored when, and without audience back-ups some great art could be lost forever.

This web site is blocked.

Sound scary?

It’s about to happen in the U.S.  Actually, it already does, given that copyright enforcement is inherently censorship-based (something many legislators are curiously unable to say aloud).  But it’s about to get much worse: the SOPA / E-PARASITE and PROTECT-IP bills currently pending in the U.S. Congress would, among other things, make it easy for private sector monopolists to cut sites off from the Internet without even proving that illegal copying has taken place.  Join us and many others who are censoring their logos today to oppose these laws that would place the United States on a collision course with Internet freedom.

Sign the petition!

(2020-12-14 Update: The petition site is no longer live, but you might want to learn about the more recent EARN-IT act, which is just as bad only in more ways.)

You’ll be in good company: Public Knowledge, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Free Software Foundation, Mozilla, Demand Progress, Fight For the Future, the Participatory Politics Foundation, Creative Commons, Wikimedia, and many more organizations (including us) have all stated their unequivocal opposition to these laws.  Even for-profit companies are putting their names on the line, including Google, Facebook, Twitter, eBay, Yahoo, and AOL.

Giving monopolists control over the Internet’s address book is a terrible idea.  Apparently some elected officials in the U.S. are under the misimpression that they were elected by the copyright industry, not by human constituents.  Let’s correct that before it’s too late.

Want to learn more?  Read our previous article about it, or click on the infographic below:

How SOPA Works.

Any German speakers out there want to subtitle this short video by Nina Paley? In it, she tells, in English, how her film Sita Sings the Blues is currently being censored on YouTube Germany by GEMA, the German copyright collection agency (the ominous underworld connotations are unfortunately rather too appropriate in this case…).

EDIT July 15, 2011: Big Thank You to Cristobal for these subtitles!

We’d like to get this message wider circulation in Germany. We’d also appreciate it if GEMA and YouTube Germany would fix whatever misunderstanding caused them to censor the film in the first place! But since this surely isn’t the only film that this has happened to, it’s still important to spread the message that copyright restrictions inevitably result in censorship.

Note that we have already tried the official YouTube takedown counternotice procedure. It has resulted in exactly zero change: the film remains censored on YouTube Germany.

EDIT July 18, 2011: Hurray! Sita Sings The Blues is now, once again, viewable on German Youtube! Thanks to everyone who spread the word and got the story covered in outlets such as Der Spiegel. To learn more about the film, click on the Sita Distribution button at the top of this page.

regretsyRegretsy received a nasty-looking lawyergram claiming copyright infringement, requesting retroactive licensing fees and implicitly threatening a lawsuit to collect damages.  What was their sin?

Apparently, that they had used the images in question for purposes of commentary — specifically, negative commentary.  Regretsy posted a mocking review (okay, a really, really funny mocking review) of objects being offered for sale, reproducing the seller’s own photograph of the objects.  The seller tried to shut down the negative review by claiming that Regretsy didn’t have the right to reproduce the photograph.  But the seller had never claimed copyright infringement on other, positive reviews elsewhere — as Regretsy delightfully pointed out, in several instances she had even posted in those other forums herself thanking the reviewers for their kind comments.  So this was clearly not about copyright.  This was about silencing a critic, using copyright as a tool of censorship.

We take no stand on whether Regretsy’s claim of “fair use” is legally accurate (we don’t even much like the term), nor on the quality of the objects or the photograph.  And we certainly don’t mean to imply that Regretsy takes any particular stance on copyright reform themselves (sometimes they even confuse plagiarism with unauthorized copying, calling them both “stealing” when only the former is.)  But they knew censorship when they saw it, and they called it what it is, in style.

We see examples like this overzealous seller all the time.  How often is copyright used as a cover for censorship, commercial or otherwise?  It’s hard to say, because unfortunately , even though copyright is a government-granted monopoly, the governments that grant it make no requirements for tracking how it’s used.  If every claim of infringement had to be delivered through (or CC’d to) a database at the copyright office, so we could see exactly how these monopolies are wielded, that would be give us some real information about whether copyright principally serves even its nominal goals.  Also, people might suddenly become a lot more conservative about claiming “infringement”.  Right now, all it costs to intimidate someone is the time it takes to send a letter (and the larger intimidators have automated even that part, so the cost is very close to zero for them).

In any case, hats off to Regretsy for publicly calling out censorship when they saw it.  Monopolies on information and culture inevitably lead to infringements on freedom of speech and commentary; it’s great that Regretsy didn’t take the easy way out when someone tried to censor them.

EFF Hall of Shame   censorship

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has just unveiled their Takedown Hall of Shame, which highlights examples of copyright law being used to suppress political commentary and creative expression. Many of the examples involve abuses of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA), whose takedown provisions encourage Internet hosting companies to remove content on the mere assertion of infringement by a copyright holder.

The EFF’s list focuses on corporate takedown notices, but it’s important to understand that it’s not only corporations that suppress speech via copyright law. The copyright monopoly system encourages people to do it to each other too; we’ve collected some examples of that.

So what’s the solution?

The real solution is radical reform of copyright law (there are plenty of alternatives). But even without that, there’s still an easy solution: fix the DMCA to have a penalty for delivering improper takedown notices. Say, a penalty of five years off the copyright term of the covered work, for each wrong notice sent about that work. Content monopolists would start being a lot more careful if they had something to lose when they get a takedown notice wrong.


Do you know some great examples of copyright being used to censor?

If so, please share them by commenting here or by sending us email. We’re putting together a presentation about the equivalence between copyright and censorship, and need to have an overwhelming number of examples at hand — enough to make it clear that the ones we choose to highlight have been picked from an ocean of candidates. We need compelling examples because the most important ones are the hardest to show: when an artist unconsciously steers away from an idea because of rights issues, that is censorship, but it is internalized and thus invisible to the outside world. We need examples to help make clear the link between visible, externally-imposed censorship and the much more common self-imposed censorship that copyright law encourages.

A great starting point is the Electronic Frontier Foundations’s Takedown Hall of Shame, listing people and organizations who have used copyright law (especially the DMCA) to squash criticism.

But situations where copyright suppresses art itself are just as important, and are just as much censorship as political censorship is. Some examples:

The audience we’re aiming at is groups already concerned about freedom of expression who may not have considered copyright as a systemic form of censorship. For example, the American Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Roundtable, the Index On Censorship, and the Authors Guild. Note that such groups are often comprised of writers and artists who came of age in the pre-Internet, copyright-controlled era, so it is especially important to have an overwhelming amount of data to show that there is a problem here.

The Free Expression Policy Project seems to already have copyright-based censorship on their radar screen; there’s probably some good stuff in the archives there. Also, if you’re an artist who has been affected by this kind of censorship, we definitely want to hear from you! (c)ensorship shirt (men's) (c)ensorship shirt (women's)

Perfect symmetry: J. D. Salinger complains that his book is censored, then J. D. Salinger turns around and censors someone else’s book.

He probably wouldn’t see it that way. He’d probably say he’s “protecting his property” or something like that. But in fact what he has done is ban a book — a sequel someone else wrote to Salinger’s book The Catcher in the Rye.

Salinger had other options. For example, if he doesn’t like this particular sequel, he could simply not endorse it. In fact, given the extraordinary powers current copyright law grants him, he could even insist that the sequel be marked as “unauthorized”, so that his name and reputation wouldn’t be associated with it. (Of course, in a world where people didn’t assume that a sequel must be authorized, even that step wouldn’t be necessary.)

But instead of choosing an option that respects the freedom of readers and of other authors, he’s suing to ban the new book. The usual pieties about freedom of speech (“the best antidote to bad speech is better speech”) somehow melt away and magically don’t apply for him, even though if he were asked, he would probably claim that he agrees with them. What is it about copyright, that it manages to sink so deeply into people’s worldview that they cannot see censorship when it’s right in front of their faces? When they’re the ones doing the censoring?

On the other hand, the author of this sequel, Fredrik Colting, gets it:

“I am pretty blown away by the judge’s decision. Call me an ignorant Swede, but the last thing I thought possible in the U.S. was that you banned books.”

His lawyer, Edward H. Rosenthal, raises the free speech issue too:

“…members of the public are deprived of the chance to read the book and decide for themselves whether it adds to their understanding of Salinger and his work.”

Though really, why should it even be necessary that the book add to anyone’s understanding of Salinger’s work? Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. Either way, it still shouldn’t be censored.

What can you do? Well, wear one of our ©ensorship shirts (women’s and men’s available in various sizes), and when someone asks you about it, tell them how copyright leads some authors to ban other authors’ books. The back of the shirt has our web site address and logo: (c)ensorship shirt, back.

Wearing them really works, by the way. I wore one on a train recently and wound up having a great conversation about copyright with two people, one of them a musician coming back from a gig, after they asked me about the front.