Mohamed Suliman, senior disinformation researcher at Northeastern University Civic AI Lab, explains how copyright protections can restrict the dissemination of fact-checking reports...
Recent years marked the ascendancy of fact-checking organizations as one of the main tools to fight disinformation in society. The reports produced by these organizations explain the flaws in the checked claim and the process to arrive at the final verdict. While it’s undeniable that these reports are essential, some of the fact-checking organizations still adopt strict copyright licenses that limit the distribution of these reports, harming society at large by limiting the circulation of the correct information.
According to the 2021 fact-checking census issued by Duke’s reporter’s lab, there are now 341 active fact-checking organizations found in at least 102 countries worldwide, most located in Europe, Asia and North America.
Fact-checking organizations share their reports in many ways. According to the 2021 State of the Fact-Checkers, all 86 surveyed organizations shared their work online, almost 20% in print and about 25% on television. Fact-checking organizations also partner with big tech companies to distribute their work through central fact-checking reports databases such as Claim Review.
By debunking viral claims associated with many issues that impact our whole society, such as Covid-19, elections, immigration and climate change, and even exposing lies and propaganda during wars, these reports are among our last line of defense guarding us against the flow of disinformation when laws and social media platform policy fail to safeguard us from harmful content.
But despite the importance of these reports, an analysis of the fact-checking organizations reveals that the vast majority of these organizations have rigorous copyright policies that prevent circulation and accelerate the dissemination of inaccurate information. For example, Snopes, the leading American fact-checking organization that readers partially fund, has terms and conditions that reserve copyright by permitting use of its fact-checking reports for only personal and non-commercial purposes. This means any news website that generates revenue through online ads will not be able to use Snopes’s fact-checking reports. Full Fact, a leading UK-based fact-checking organization, reserves all rights and prohibits using its content unless otherwise stated and asks users to contact the company to request licensing. The Australian AAP fact-checking organization gives users the right to copy the content temporarily for personal use. By contrast, only a few organizations, such as Factcheck.org, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, allow their articles to be reprinted and distributed without charge. Politifact gives users the right to copy content but only for non-commercial uses without prior written consent. Still, the website prohibits transmitting and creating any derivative work.
By placing these reports in the public domain, we guarantee they will always be readily available for dissemination and recirculation in society. Consequently, we will have full access to the correct information to analyze the issues we care about and take proper actions.
Fact-checking organizations should think of themselves as not-for-profit organizations and not companies that operate under the market and competition logic. Their work impacts the whole of society and advances the value of truth.
The fundamental premise of any functioning democracy is that we have well-informed voters. When we have copyright policies that limit access to the truth, we’re losing a lot; it’s time to revisit these laws.
Mohamed Suliman is a senior disinformation researcher at Northeastern University Civic AI Lab. He holds a degree in engineering from the University of Khartoum.
Suggested citation: Mohamed Suliman, Fact-Checking Reports Should Be in the Public Domain, JURIST – Professional Commentary, December 19, 2022, https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2022/12/mohamed-suliman-fact-checking-public-domain/.
This article was prepared for publication by Hayley Behal, JURIST Commentary Co-Managing Editor. Please direct any questions or comments to her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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