[Politech] Whoops! Pentagon censors "right to know" video [ip]

From: Declan McCullagh (declan@private)
Date: Wed Sep 01 2004 - 17:00:08 PDT

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: 	Pentagon Censors 'Right to Know' Video
Date: 	Wed, 1 Sep 2004 09:12:51 -0400
From: 	Ted Bridis <TBridis@private>
To: 	Declan McCullagh <declan@private>


Pentagon Censors 'People's Right to Know,' Video Used to Teach About Public Information

By Ted Bridis
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON Sept. 1, 2004  The Defense Department spent $70,500 to
produce a Humphrey Bogart-themed video called "The People's Right to
Know" to teach employees to respond to citizen requests for
information. But when it came to showing the tape to the public, the
Pentagon censored some of the footage.

Officials said they blacked out parts of the training video with the
message, "copyrighted material removed for public viewing," because
they were worried the government didn't have legal rights to some
historical footage that was included.

Citing the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, The Associated Press asked
the Pentagon for a copy of the video nearly 18 months ago. The Defense
Department released an edited version of the tape and acknowledged the
irony of censoring a video promoting government openness.

"We knew it would be embarrassing," said Suzanne Council of the Army
Office of the Chief Attorney, which gave advice to censor the scenes
because of copyright concerns.

The 22-minute video features a trenchcoat-clad narrator resembling Sam
Spade, the detective played by Bogart in the 1941 classic "The Maltese
Falcon." The narrator follows mysterious characters known only as
"veiled lady" and "large man" as he describes Pentagon rules under the
open records law, which mandates disclosure of most federal documents,
e-mails, photographs and videotapes.

"Releasing or denying access to records can be a tricky business," the narrator says, impersonating Bogart. "In the end it will be up to you to do the right thing and provide as much help as you can.

"And remember, I'll be looking at you, kid."

The Pentagon produced the video in 2001 and internally distributed
about 100 copies. It explains, for example, that photos of military
airplanes and buildings shouldn't be turned over to the public under
the open records law.

The video also includes historic clips from the 1996 Olympics, the
exploration of Titanic wreckage in 1986 and Hank Aaron hitting his
record-breaking 714th home run in 1974. Those clips and others were
copyrighted by organizations that would not give permission to release
them, said C.Y. Talbot, chief of the Defense Department's Office of
Freedom of Information and Security Review.

The Army lawyer, Council, said her law staff recently asked the
organizations again for their permission and were denied. "We couldn't
get approval; we did our darnedest," she said.

Legal experts challenged the Pentagon's refusal to release the entire
video, arguing it was improper under the Freedom of Information Act -
the subject of the videotape itself - for the government to withhold
records because they include copyrighted material.

The video lists reasons for withholding government documents under
U.S. law but does not mention copyright. It cites seven categories of
information that can be withheld, including classified documents and
"trade secrets and commercial and financial information given by
companies in their bids for contracts."

"This makes no sense; this is silly," said David A. Schulz, a First
Amendment lawyer in New York who has represented the AP. "This is a
novel effort to apply a provision that clearly has no proper
application here."

Schulz said the Pentagon's assertion would allow the government to
keep secret any records that contained material the government itself
did not produce, such as letters or e-mails to U.S. officials from
outside organizations.

The tape's existence was first uncovered by Michael Ravnitzky, an open
records advocate and private investigator in Washington; he withdrew
his request for a copy before he ever received one.

"It was a little childish," said Jim Klotz, a UFO researcher in
Seattle who also asked for the tape. Klotz routinely asks for federal
documents and thought the government's own training video might be
helpful. "It wasn't bad; it covered the basics," he said.

Michael Powell, a Rice University student in Houston, asked for the
tape for his graduate studies on information laws. "Aesthetically, it
was horrible," he said. "The main character was obviously intended to
be like Humphrey Bogart and had this terrible Bogart accent the whole
way through."

Experts said it was probably legal for the Pentagon to include the
historic footage in its video under the "fair use" provision of
U.S. copyright law, which permits use of such clips for criticism,
news reporting, teaching or research.

"Nobody wants to get sued," said Jay Flemma, a New York copyright
lawyer. "Corporations would be served best by not including such
material, but you certainly can make a strong argument this was fair

On the Net:

Clips from the video: http://wid.ap.org/video/video/040831foia.rm 
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