Wednesday, July 12, 2006

UK government abusing copyright to silence whistleblower

The Foreign Office is now seeking to misuse copyright law to stop a former ambassador from publishing material showing British involvement in torture. From the Guardian:
The government is threatening to sue former ambassador Craig Murray for breach of copyright if he does not remove from his website intelligence material that was censored out of his newly published memoirs.

Mr Murray has posted full texts of all passages the Foreign Office ordered deleted from the book version of Murder in Samarkand, the former Tashkent ambassador's account of alleged British complicity in torture by the despotic Uzbekistan regime. His book contains links to the website.

The passages detail CIA intelligence reports that Mr Murray says were false, and accounts of US National Security Agency intercepts and conversations with John Herbst, the US ambassador in Uzbekistan at the time. The Foreign Office says release of the material is damaging. ...

The Foreign Office is also demanding, in a claim that breaks new legal ground, that Mr Murray remove from his website the text of Foreign Office correspondence which he says he obtained officially through Freedom of Information Act and Data Protection Act requests.

The Treasury solicitors, the government lawyers, wrote to Mr Murray last week claiming: "Even if a document is released under the Freedom of Information Act or the Data Protection Act, that does not entitle you to make further reproductions of that document by, for example, putting them on your website."

Mr Murray said yesterday: "If the media do not react to this, they will lose the ability to report in any detail material released under the Freedom of Information Act. The documents in question are the supporting evidence for my book. The government continues to claim my story is untrue."
It is unacceptable that a government can silence its critics by relying on copyright law. The approach taken by US law is preferable, under which government publications don't benefit from copyright protection. After all, this material has already been paid for by the taxpayer.

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