Copyright has its origins in censorship; some 500 years ago in England the Company of Stationers were awarded monopolies over the works which they printed in exchange for ensuring that they printed only what the monarch wanted printed.
It was only when a parliament, wary of the power which the ability to grant monopolies gives to the executive branch, passed the Statute of Anne that the monopoly was formally divested from censorship. Of course that was back before those in the executive branch had figured out that they could effectively grant monopolies by creating trade agreements with like minded others from the executive branches in other countries, which in turn require national legislatures to pass new laws.
Despite that attempt separate copyright and censorship the monopoly privilege granted by copyright has been used to silence speech. More than a decade ago copyright law was used with some success by the Church of Scientology to silence several of its critics raising familiar issues of the liability of intermediaries and whether copyright gets a free pass from freedom of expression scrutiny.
From the mid 90’s many of the most brilliant legal minds in the world have warned, repeatedly, of the structural tendencies of intellectual property laws to silence free expression. However government, apparently in thrall to the late medieval belief that granting monopolies is good for innovation, have ignored them, removing free expression and procedural safeguards, and stacking a range of enforcement measures on top of the monopolies they grant.
So when the New York Times reports that Russia uses Microsoft to Suppress Dissent it isn’t surprising. Microsoft tries to distance itself from the actions as if the suppression of free expression is not an inherent part of the monopoly granted by copyright law and as if it has not spent a great deal of money to require that draconian enforcement measures become law in multiple jurisdictions.
Another story shows how government officials in foreign countries can use the copyright rules in countries which pride themselves on upholding free expression. Jesús Soto from Ciudad Para Todos posted a video critical of plans to build a ‘superhighway’ by the Mexican state of Jalisco consisting of interviews, and footage from the state’s promotional video for the project. YouTube, based in the United States, made the video unavailable after receiving a notice to take it down in terms of United States law, the DMCA, from state officials.
Established democracies have not only manufactured a weapon which is being used to suppress dissent in other countries, but has created processes in their own legal systems which enable foreign government officials to effectively silence speech.