In 2011, Colombian graduate student Diego Gomez shared another student’s Master’s thesis with colleagues over the Internet. After a long legal battle, Diego was able to breathe a sigh of relief today as he was cleared of the criminal charges that he faced for this harmless act of sharing scholarly research.
Since Diego was first brought to trial, thousands of you have shown your support for him via our online petition. The petition’s message is simple: open access should be the international default for scholarly publication.
That’s true, but Diego’s story also demonstrates what can go wrong when nations enact severe penalties for copyright infringement. Even if all academic research were published freely and openly, researchers would still need to use and share copyrighted materials for educational purposes. With severe prison sentences on the line for copyright infringement, freedom of expression and intellectual freedom suffer.
Diego’s story demonstrates what can go wrong when nations enact severe penalties for copyright infringement.
Diego’s story also serves as a cautionary tale of what can happen when copyright law is broadened through international agreements. The law Diego was prosecuted under was enacted as part of a trade agreement with the United States. But as is often the case when trade agreements are used to expand copyright law, the agreement only exported the U.S.’ extreme criminal penalties; it didn’t export our broad fair use provisions. When copyright law becomes more restrictive with no account for freedom of expression, people like Diego suffer.
Diego was lucky to have the tireless support of local NGO Fundación Karisma, and allies around the world such as EFF, who brought global attention to the injustice of the criminal accusations against him. However, the prosecutor in the case has appealed the verdict, leaving Diego with possible liability continuing to hang over his head for an undetermined time to come.
There are also many other silent victims of overzealous copyright enforcement, including those who are constrained from performing useful research, who shut down websites that come under unfair attack, and who shy away from sharing with colleagues for fear of being targetted with civil or criminal charges.
Please join us today in standing up for open access, standing up for fair copyright law, and standing with Diego.