A Colombian biologist faces up to eight years in prison for sharing a scientist’s dissertation on the online document portal Scribd. But the Electronic Frontier Foundation reports that Diego Gómez has been cleared of criminal copyright violations in a country that, unlike the US, has no broad fair-use defenses against infringement charges.
“After a lengthy legal battle, Diego was able to breathe a sigh of relief today when he was cleared of the criminal charges he faced for this innocent act of sharing scientific research,” the EFF announced. Thousands signed an EFF petition in support of Gómez. In 2011, he uploaded a master’s thesis by another scientist, and a lengthy legal story in Colombia followed. A judge in Bogotá found him innocent of the charges on Wednesday.
“I have been acquitted. I am innocent,” Gómez said according to Nature.
However, prosecutors said they would appeal the decision in a case that began with an infringement suit brought by the author of the thesis. This development “brings back uncertainty,” said 29-year-old Gómez.
Colombian law does allow suspects to invoke a so-called gentlemen rea defense. In this case, Gómez claimed he had no malicious intent. His only motive behind his actions was to share scientific research while studying at the University of Quindío in Armenia, Colombia, he said.
The Colombian courts also consider whether there is economic damage when it comes to alleged criminal behavior. In the Gómez case, the copyright crime could have been punishable by up to eight years in prison.
Strict Copyright Sanctions
In the United States, copyright allegations are rare and require evidence of financial motive. The criminal prosecution of Kim Dotcom Megaupload is an example of a US copyright infringement prosecution based on allegations of monetary gain – in this case, millions of dollars in alleged profits.
Copyright disputes in the US are also usually resolved in civil courts and not criminal courts, where imprisonment is at stake.
The EFF, meanwhile, noted that Gómez’s prosecution was a by-product of the US-Colombia free trade agreement passed in 2006. Under the accord, Colombia implemented the harsh criminal penalties in U.S. copyright law, but did not import the broad U.S. definition of fair use, the EFF said.
In the US, there is no specific number of words, rules, or notes that are safe to use without permission. However, there are at least four factors what courts must consider when determining fair use: the purpose of the use, the nature of the copyrighted work, the amount and substantiality of the portion taken, and the effect of the use on the potential market.