November 17, 2006 | By Kurt Opsahl

Landmark Forum's Internet Censorship Campaign Goes Down Under

There is a video that international self-help group the Landmark Forum really does not want anyone anywhere in the world to see, and it's misusing copyright law to make sure that happens. The latest target is Australia's Cult Awareness & Information Centre.

It all started in France, where French public television broadcast a documentary film entitled Voyage Au Pays Des Nouveaux Gourous (Voyage to the Land of the New Gurus), about the activities of Landmark Education, also known as the Landmark Forum or The Forum, in France.

When the video, which was critical of the Landmark Forum and included hidden camera footage from inside a French Landmark Forum event, appeared (with English subtitles) on popular US video sites Google Video, YouTube and the Internet Archive, Landmark used the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to get the video taken off the web and using the DMCA's expedited subpoena process to try to obtain identity of the anonymous uploaders. EFF responded on behalf of the Internet Archive and an uploader, and is in ongoing discussions with Landmark seeking a resolution.

Landmark's DMCA notices and subpoenas are misuse of the DMCA because Landmark has no valid copyright claim: Landmark didn't make the video, and the video only included hidden camera footage of a few minutes out of a three and a half day course - and the copyright registration cited isn't even for the course itself. To the extent that the documentary includes any materials copyrighted by Landmark, that use is clearly for purposes of criticism and commentary, i.e., a non-infringing fair use. (See pages 11-16 of our draft motion to quash Landmark's subpoenas). The DMCA's notice and takedown regime is designed for getting infringing works offline - not censorship of criticism. The French television station that broadcast the documentary has not objected to its appearance online.

Landmark goes Down Under after the jump

While Landmark's US DMCA campaign was ongoing, the controversial video remained available on the website of the Australian Cult Awareness & Information Centre. But this week, Landmark's Australian lawyers entered the picture with a cease and desist letter of their own, sent to CAIC's ISP StudioSolutions, and still asserting the same tired copyright claim. While Australian copyright law is different than the US, it doesn't give you a copyright on someone else's video.

Apparently not satisfied with legal threats to CAIC, Landmark also stepped up its campaign by sending a letter to the Apologetics Index website. According to the site:

The other day we received a letter from a lawyer in Amsterdam on behalf of his client, Landmark Education. Landmark Education requests that we immediately remove the link to the video in question because, they allege the documentary violates Landmark copyright by ?reproducing large portions of its copyrighted work, the Landmark Forum Manual.? The letter suggests that our link to the video encourages third parties to violate Landmark Education?s copyright.

The link in question was to the video on the CAIC website. Even assuming that every single document shown in the video was part of the Landmark Forum Manual (which is unlikely), all that is shown are a few isolated sentences and words, used to make commentary and criticism. Ultimately, the Apologetics Index concluded:

Since we are not convinced that Landmark?s claims regarding copyright violations are correct, we have not removed the link to the video from Apologetics Index.

In public statements, Landmark General Counsel Art Schreiber insists that Landmark supports free speech. We urge Landmark to take a stand for the principles of free expression and get out of the censorship racket--the answer to criticism is to explain and promote your own view. Landmark may believe that using copyright notices to takedown criticism is a winning formula, but it will ultimately come back to haunt Landmark.


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