Fake ID Copyright: 101

Of all the legal stories I saw this weekend the one that captured my attention the most wasn’t the debacle at Tufts where the school board has mandated the curbing of free speech in an abysmally short-sighted display of political correctness and general ass-covering, nor was it the alarming news that rate hikes may force Web streamers out of commission. Although, you could argue it should have been.

At any rate, the story I found most interesting doesn’t seem to be getting much media coverage yet.

Rachel Hyman is an artist that supports herself by waiting bar in the grand tradition of starving American artists all over. She dillengently serves her patrons and enforces out bizarre and silly puritanical drinking laws. Idiot children come in to have a pint and break the law, and she spots their fake IDs and send them packing, sans the offending document. The catch is–and the sensibility that decides to do this could only come from an artist–she takes the confiscated ids, places them on her Website, and pokes fun at the offenders’ efforts for the amusement of all.

One offender didn’t find it so funny. When Ms. Hyman put up her fake ID on the Website, the offender found legal council who sent a takedown notice to Google (Google runs Blogger, which runs Ms. Hyman’s site) demanding Ms. Hyman to take the picture of the fake id down because it violated copyright.

…Wha??…

Since when can you copyright a FAKE ID? It seems, that although Google complied and took down the image in question, Ms. Hyman sent Google a counter-claim alleging that she has every right to keep the image up as it is not an original work, but merely a derivative work of the state and that the creator has no copyright to protect. There is a lot of discussion on slashdot, digg, etc. about if the pictures and the signature are the copyrighted items, if it is the entire ID, and so forth.

Obviously, or maybe not so obviously, there is no really strong legal precedent that gives us a good idea of how this would play out in court. And, most likely, this will not go to court as the offender really just wanted to get the picture off the net (to ensure her privacy, or to keep this information from her guardians, or who knows why).

This whole circus reminded me of a lecture I attended at CSU of J.S.G. Boggs. Boggs is an artist that duplicates and spends domestic and foreign currency. He doesn’t cash his forgeries, but rather engages in a complicated bartering of sorts. His works are indeed copyrighted, and, believe it or not, the waitin-list to get one of his “Boggs Bucks” is huge and expensive. I imagine that the fact Boggs goes out of his way to not commit fraud makes his example quite different from the fake ID artist’s. However, what is to keep the latter “artist” from claiming she was merely practicing a performance art and thus evade the standard of fraud.

Still, what confuses me is that the takedown notice which was given to Google cited the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA). And in that act, the safe harbor provisions spell out the dance of sending the takedown notice, taking the offending content down, then allowing for a counter-complaint to be field, and so on. Which elements of the ID were created digitally? And does it matter if the components were created manually and the only “digital” creation was scan in which the image hosted by Google was created? And if some of the components were created manually, without any computer, can the whole still retain digital rights?

… I guess I should go to law school. But right now I’ll settle for bed.

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