Last month, Ares Rights found itself the subject of renewed media attention asking whether the government of Ecuador employs the peculiar Spanish firm to deploy bogus copyright notices in an effort to censor or harass political dissidents.
(For background, you can read my original summary how Ares Rights has purported — for years – to act forf governments and officials of Ecuador and Argentina, to abuse American copyright law to remove criticism — including this very website.)
I’d begun to suspect that Ares Rights had decided to lay low for awhile, or perhaps that its ties to the government had been severed altogether — if they existed at all, anyway, as the rare statements by their purported ‘clients’ have been to deny that a contractual relationship exists. Comedic satirist John Oliver’s absolutely brutal takedown of Correa’s live-on-television doxing of his Twitter and Facebook critics only added fuel to criticism of Correa’s intolerance of dissent. (Curiously, HBO’s re-run of the episode was broadcast throughout South America – except Ecuador.)
But now, Ares Rights is back. In DMCA notices sent to YouTube, Ares Rights once again purports to act on behalf of Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa (who, to my knowledge, has never denied hiring Ares Rights, even when addressing the issue), Ecuador’s state-funded television outlet ECTV (which has denied having a contractual relationship with Ares Rights), and Correa’s official television broadcasts. One of the DMCA notices sent to YouTube by Ares Rights is below.
The YouTube videos targeted by Ares Rights consist of a documentary criticizing journalistic freedom under Correa’s government. A few short clips of Correa’s televised addresses on his official program on ECTV are interwoven among interviews with various free speech advocates. In any nation with a remotely sane copyright law or a modicum of respect for the freedom of political speech, these would be fair uses exempt from claims of copyright. When the words of a politician can be subject to copyright, then the politician need only seek the removal of his own words when they’re used to criticize him.
Here’s a shorter version — which Ares Rights also sought to remove:
In addition to the few clips of Correa’s speeches — which, with his handheld microphone, look more like televised sermons — the only other clip which originates from Correa’s government or television network is an advertisement, apparently produced by the communications arm of Ecuador’s government, which should be in any respectable documentary about freedom of speech in Ecuador, because it is alarming and has no place in a coherent democracy. In the ad, a woman and her son are appalled when they gather around the breakfast table and read a newspaper headline declaring, “Drunk woman crashes with her young lover.” The son says, “but mom, that’s a photo of you driving me to school.” Then the words literally start attacking the woman, and the son tells the viewer that a new communications law is needed to protect freedom of speech, as opposed to freedom of ‘distortion':
The above clip is identified in Ares Rights’ takedown notice as infringing on its putative clients’ rights. Critics of Ecuador can’t even reprint its official government propaganda in the context of criticizing it, because copyright. The government’s words, whether from the mouth of Correa or in the form of a slick public ‘service’ announcement, must come from “authorized official channels”, per Ares Rights’ claim.
While the ad suggests that such a law would protect the common person, Ecuador’s 2013 Organic Law on Communication has instead been utilized to protect — surprise! — political leaders. Correa’s government is, among other abuses, accusing independent media outlets of censoring him by not covering him enough. This has the effect of misappropriating private media for government propaganda: “you must print my words, but you can’t print them to criticize me. I own the copyright.”
The true role of Ares Rights remains unclear. Have they been hired by Correa or his government? Or are they acting independently? Until these questions are answered — and perhaps after they’re eventually answered — the content targeted by Ares Rights should be viewed and shared. Someone, whether officially sanctioned or not, doesn’t want them to be seen. Those efforts should — and must — backfire.