“Last month, the 29-year-old Colombian biologist Diego Gómez (shown above) was cleared of charges of violating copyright. Nothing remarkable in that, you might think. But the “crime” that Gómez was accused of was that in 2011 he uploaded another scientist’s 2006 thesis on amphibian taxonomy to the document-sharing network Scribd so that others could read it, since it was hard to find, and Gómez thought it deserved wider appreciation.
However, the author of the thesis did not appreciate the gesture, and sued for damages. The court case began in 2014. At stake was not just fines of up to $327,000, but a prison sentence of between four and eight years. Although the court has just acquitted Gómez, his troubles are not yet over, since the prosecutor has appealed against the judge’s decision. As a result, Gómez must still live with the threat of many years of prison and a ruinous fine hanging over him – all because he wanted to share knowledge with his fellow researchers, and with no attempt to derive any financial benefit from doing so.
Gómez is a victim of a new law that Colombia passed in 2012, which requires criminal sanctions when infringement takes place on a “commercial scale”, where that term is framed so loosely that it includes non-commercial infringement like sharing a thesis. The law was brought in as part of Colombia’s compliance with the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement. International trade deals have become a standard way for the US copyright industry to force other countries to extend copyright and introduce harsh punishments against infringement, as Gómez discovered….”