Copyright vs. The Law

Techdirt points us to an interesting conflict going on in Sweden:

The Swedish National Police have been attempting to build a database which allows them to match shoe-prints found at crime scenes with the type of shoes that made them. In order to build the database, they have simply been downloading pictures of shoe treds from the internet. Now, some shoe companies are claiming that those images are their intellectual property and cannot be taken without permission.

The police claim that the law lets them ignore copyright in solving crimes, but an intellectual property professor quoted in the article notes that such an exemption only applies in the direct police investigation of a specific crime — not for the sake of building up a general database. The professor suggests that this appears to be a clear violation of Swedish copyright laws.

Fine points of Swedish copyright law aside (for the time being), what’s interesting here are the two potential ways to approach the dispute:

If we trust that the motive of the police is to protect the life and property of the citizenry, then we can see the conflict over the database as taking root in a claim by commercial brands that the protection of their intellectual property in the abstract (it should be safe to assume that this database will not result in any real economic damage) should trump the ability of the police to solve actual crimes.

If we’re feeling more cynical about state power, we could view this as a conflict between copyright and state power. Which source of authority is exerts more influence: the corporation’s ownership of it’s intellectual property or the state’s ability to surveil its citizens?

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