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US Court of Appeals reduces sentence for former Philippines officer in spy case

Monday, February 9, 2009

Michael Ray Aquino, a former Philippines National Police officer serving six years imprisonment in McRae, Georgia for espionage could now be eligible for immediate release after a United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit judge panel Friday modified a United States District Court for the District of New Jersey‘s judgment, ordering a resentence of the accused under more lenient guidelines.

“I feel relieved for Michael Aquino and his family. We won the appeal. Michael will be resentenced. His new sentencing range will be 36-46 months (that is, essentially time served). Aquino has now served exactly 41 months in prison to the day on Feb. 9, 2009,” Aquino’s lawyer, Mark A. Berman, Esq. said. “The accused pleaded guilty to merely to possessing military secrets, and a three-judge panel of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that Walls erred in using harsher sentencing guideline reserved gathering or transmitting classified documents,” Berman added.

But Federal prosecutors had argued for Walls’ sentence, alleging “his guilty plea included acknowledging the stolen documents could have been used to harm the United States, making him eligible for the stiffer sentence,” Christopher J. Christie, U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey submitted. “Crimes like these strike at the heart of our national security because they involve our keeping our secrets secret. These defendants will face the full weight of federal prosecution,” said US Attorney Christie.

“The arrests of Leandro Aragoncillo and Michael Ray Aquino affirm the FBI’s commitment to apprehending those who would seek to reveal classified information to foreign nationals,” explained FBI Special Agent in Charge Leslie Wiser Jr. Both accused were ordered in judicial custody without bail by United States Magistrate Judge Patty Shwartz in September 2005.

“While Aragoncillo was an active participant in the offense, Aquino’s role was purely passive,” wrote Circuit Judge Maryanne Trump Barry in a written opinion promulgated Friday, in “US v Aquino” (No. 07-3202), an appealed case originating from D.C. Crim. No. 05-cr-00719. In the judgment, federal judges Barry, Michael Chagares and Jane A Restani, Chief Judge of the United States Court of International Trade, sitting by designation, have acknowledged that Judge William H. Walls’ interpretation of the harsher sentencing guideline was understandable, but the statute is imprecise. “Accordingly, we will vacate the judgment of sentence and remand for resentencing,” the panel ruled.

“The Honorable Maryanne Barry” is a United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit judge, daughter of Mary MacLeod Trump, who hails from Tong, Western Isles. Barry is the older sister of real estate mogul Donald Trump and the mother of David Desmond, who is a neuropsychologist and the author of the satirical novel Oliver Booth.

The espionage case was the first of its kind, obliging the Court to turn to the dictionary instead as a legal tool to resolve the landmark case. Circuit Judge Barry then used the 1993 version of the Webster’s Third New International Dictionary to define the word “obtain.” The pertinent part, pages 9 to 10 of the 13-page decision provides as follows:

First, Aquino never admitted—at least in so many words—that he “obtained” the documents found in his possession. According to Webster’s, “to obtain” means “to gain or attain possession or disposal of usu[ally] by some planned action or method.” Webster’s Third New International Dictionary 1559 (1993). This has an active connotation. At his sentencing hearing, Aquino answered in the affirmative when asked whether he had “receiv[ed]” documents (App. 44) that Aragoncillo “was providing” (App. 45) or “transmit[ting]” (App. 46). At no point was “planned action or method” on Aquino’s part even suggested. While Aragoncillo was an active participant in the offense, Aquino’s role was purely passive. In short, there is no sound textual basis for selecting either § 2M3.2 or § 2M3.3 to address Aquino’s retention offense at Step One. Fortunately, at Step Two, the Sentencing Commission provided guidance that makes it functionally irrelevant whether we begin our analysis at § 2M3.2 or § 2M3.3. Critically, the District Court did not heed what the Commission had said.—”USA v. Michael Ray Aquino,” Case No. 07-3202, Circuit Judge Maryanne Trump Barry

Judge Walls sentenced Aquino to 76 months imprisonment for violation of 18 United States Code 793(e), punishable under the harsher United States Sentencing Guidelines, 2M3.2, (Gathering National Defense Information, which imposes 35 years sentence if top secret and 30 years, if not) instead of the more lenient 2M3.3 (Transmitting National Defense Information, etc.)

Because of the Barry decision which modified the original Hall’s sentence, Aquino now faces 37 to 46 months imprisonment when he is resentenced by the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey. Since he has already served 40 months, he could be immediately released.

But since he was initially arrested in September 2005 for tourist visa rules violations, he will be delivered by the judicial authorities to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services when he leaves McRae Correctional Institution in Georgia. Aquino will be processed for deportation. McRae is a city in Telfair County, Georgia, United States.

Michael Ray Aquino was a former Deputy Directory of the Philippines National Police Intelligence Group and former senior superintendent of the now-disbanded Philippines Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force under former Philippines president Joseph Estrada.

On November 24, 2000, PR man Bubby Dacer and his driver Emmanuel Corbito were kidnapped along the corner Zobel Roxas Street in Manila and the South Super Highway by gunmen believed to be members of the PNP. Four days after, the victims’ charred remains, consisting of burnt bones, metal dental plates and a ring, were later found in Barangay Buna Lejos, Indang, Cavite. Both victims were killed by strangulation.

P/Col. Glenn Galapon Dumlao, one of the accused, named former Po/Supt. Cezar O. Mancao II and former S/Supt. Michael Ray Aquino as the brains behind the crime. Mancao and Aquino were members of Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force or PAOCTF, headed by then Gen. Panfilo Lacson. Suspects Mancao and Aquino left the country after being implicated in the heinous crime. Dumlao disappeared afterwards but later resurfaced in the US.

In 2005, murder cases were filed in Philippine courts and arrests warrants were issued against accused Dumlao, Aquino and Mancao. Dumlao, a resident of Patchogue, New York was arrested and held without bail on November 20, 2008 by virtue of a warrant of arrest issued by Judge William D. Wall. On December 10, Dumlao was ordered extradited to the Philippines by Judge A. Kathleen Tomlinson of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York in Long Island, New York.

The initial hearing of the extradition case of Dumlao’s co-accused, Mancao II, now detained in Florida, was held on December 3, in the US District Court in Southern Florida in Fort Lauderdale. Justice Secretary Raul M. Gonzalez had requested the US Justice Department to extradite Mancao and Dumlao to face murder charges in the Philippines. An extradition hearing has yet to be initiated for Aquino, although, as trusted officer of then PNP chief, now senator, Panfilo Lacson, was also requested for extradition by the Philippine government to face trial for the Dacer-Corbito double murder.

“Sir, the other day Leandro ‘Lean’ Aragoncillo called me. … He wants to talk to you and give you some updates on the political situation in the country,” wrote Aquino in an e-mail of January 2005 to his former boss Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson. “I find all the information that you are sending me very useful. I hope you will continue sending more,” replied Sen. Lacson in an e-mail he allegedly sent in January 2005 to Aragoncillo. “By no means would you show this information. … I will be affected severely. Again, please protect the source – Me,” said Aragoncillo in an E-mail he allegedly sent in August 2005 to former Philippines President Joseph Estrada.

In March 2005, Aquino was arrested by immigration authorities for overstaying his visa. He contacted his friend, Leandro Aragoncillo, a Philippine-born civilian FBI Intelligence Analyst, who worked in the White House (between 1999 and 2002) as “administration chief” of the security detail assigned to the Vice President (Gore and then Cheney). However, Aragoncillo’s efforts on Aquino’s behalf eventually led to Aragoncillo being investigated by the FBI. In the course of that investigation, evidence of espionage against the United States Government was uncovered.

According to reports complied by Filipino intelligence professionals, there were indications of a link between Aragoncillo and the French intelligence service, Direction générale de la sécurité extérieure. Frequent visits by Aragoncillo to Manila allegedly were interspersed with clandestine meetings between identified, French operatives and several “illegals” (i.e. unregistered agents) around 2002 to 2004.

“What it means is that there is a hole in White House security. There are two kinds of people at the White House: Those that have been very well-vetted and those that have been extremely well-vetted and have access to the top secret computer network. This man had access to the top secret computer network.” said Richard A. Clarke, a former White House adviser.

“The FBI said Aragoncillo was concerned about e-mailing from his personal account so many classified documents from FBI computers, and he asked one recipient, Filipino opposition Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson, whether he was a nuisance. “The reply, court records say, came back two days later in a cell phone message intercepted by the FBI: “What you are sending are never a nuisance to me. They are in fact informative and very useful,” Clark added.

In September 2005, Aragoncillo, a retired US Marine Gunnery Sergeant with 21 years service was suspended by the FBI, and arrested for violation of Title 18 of the US Code, Sections 371 and 951, admitting espionage activities from August 2000 to August 2005, and taking files while working under VP Cheney from 2001-2002, including giving information to another country.

In July 2007, Aragoncillo, age 50, a naturalized US citizen residing in Woodbury, New Jersey was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for “transferring classified information to assist in overthrow of Philippines government.” Aragoncillo, admitted passing information by cellphone text messages and e-mail messages through Hotmail and Yahoo accounts, to Aquino, former President Joseph Estrada, Sen. Panfilo Lacson, and opposition politicians, who wanted to oust Mrs. Arroyo, including former House Speaker Arnulfo Fuentebella, according to court documents. He will be released from Federal Correction Institute in Big Spring, Texas on May 28, 2014.

The court fined Aragoncillo $40,000. “I never intended to cause harm or injury to the United States,” Aragoncillo told the judge. In July 2007, Sen. Panfilo Lacson as well as deposed president Joseph Estrada have admitted to receiving information from Aquino, but they denied any conspiracy. “Aquino is determined not to return to the country,” said Sen. Lacson, who admitted extending financial support to Aquino and his family.

In July, 2008, Sabina and Carina Dacer, the daughters of missing public relations man Salvador “Bubby” Dacer testified at the Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC), after almost eight years of self-exile in the United States. “In his exact words he said, ‘mga anak, kung may mangyari sa akin, walang ibang may kakagawan noon kundi si Ping Lacson, (my daughters, if anything happens to me, no one but Ping Lacson is responsible)” Sabina Dacer told ABS-CBN News and Current Affairs. “Hindi naman kilala ng daddy ko si Michael Ray Aquino as far as we know eh. So kung hindi siya kilala ng daddy ko, sino yung kilala niya na kilala ng daddy ko? (My dad does not know Michael Ray Aquino as far as we know. So, if my dad does not know him, whom does he know that my dad knows?)” Carina Dacer said.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson has vehemently denied any involvement in the Dacer-Corbito murder case. “For the Nth time, I will assert the truth that I had nothing to do with it,” said Lacson in a text message. “They can lie and make people lie even under oath and before a court of law to make me look bad and guilty in the Dacer case. In fact, right after Dacer disappeared, the family sought my help… And I responded the way I should as a law enforcement officer at that time,” Lacson explained.

On Saturday, September 10, 2005, Aquino was also arrested at Queens, New Jersey and was charged with conspiracy and acting as an agent of a foreign official in the jurisdiction of the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, presided by U.S. District Judge William H. Walls. Aquino was accused of helping Aragoncillo transmit classified United States documents regarding President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to her opponents in the Philippines, including both former President Joseph Estrada and current opposition leader, Panfilo Lacson, who had been Aquino’s superior in the police force.

In an indictment of 6 Oct 2005 signed and filed by United States Attorney Christopher J. Christie, the Grand Jury sitting at Newark, New Jersey, accused Aquino with charges of – “knowingly communicating classified information by a government employee to an agent or representative of a foreign country (i.e. receiving classified information), acting as an agent of a foreign official without notification of the Attorney General, in violation of Title 18 of the US Code, Section 951, conspiracy to commit all of the above offenses in violation of Title 18 of the US Code, Section 371, and not cooperating with authorities, under Title 18 of the US Code, Section 2.

Under an eventual plea-bargain agreement, Aquino entered a plea of guilty to illegal possession of classified documents, but avoided the more serious charge of espionage which Aragoncillo received. On July 17, 2007, Aquino was sentenced to six years and four months in prison by U.S. District Judge William H. Walls. Federal prosecutors had sought the maximum 10-year term.

Aquino “did subject our nation to some peril,” ruled Judge Walls. “I am sorry for what I did. I never had the intention to harm the United States. I love this country,” said Aquino who addressed the court for three minutes before sentencing, and apologized. On November 21, 2008 his reduced sentence request was submitted to the appellate court.

Meantime, the Philippine National Police (PNP) is monitoring developments in the Aquino espionage case. “Of course we are interested in his case, but all we can do is to wait for the outcome of the case of Michael Ray in the US,” said a police official.

The Alliance for A Just and Lasting Peace in the Philippines has criticized the judgment: “For the AJLPP the news of the release proves that the charade of injustice is ever present when it comes to the cabal of AFP men who served as worst human rights violator and proven puppets of the United States military like the Lacson boys,” the AJLPP said. “On the other cases of oppressed immigrants like the Baoanan case languishes in courts and not acted upon. So much for double standard of American justice system.” The AJLPP statement concluded.

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Iran’s morality police crack down on un-Islamic dress

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Iran’s morality police crack down on un-Islamic dress
February 2nd, 2023 | Uncategorized |

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Iranian police forces have faced criticism from Ayatollah Hashemi Shahrudi, the head of the judiciary who was appointed by Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, for their re-invigorated campaign to do away with un-Islamic dress.

Ayatollah Shahroudi proclaimed, “Tough measures on social problems will backfire and have counter-productive effects.” Others have, of course, made it clear that un-Islamic dress can lead to moral corruption, engender innumerable vices, and hurt the Islamic character of the nation.

Some believe that no one had any issue with the creation of an Islamic atmosphere. The core of the matter revolves around the implementation of the Islamic dress code; additionally, heavy-handed measures should be shunned. For instance, Mehdi Ahmadi, information head of Tehran’s police, told Al Jazeera: “Some citizens may complain about the way the law is being enforced but they all agree with the plan itself.”

According to one student, “You simply can’t tell people what to wear. They don’t understand that use of force only brings hatred towards them, not love.” Nevertheless, Hojatoll-Islam Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi, Iran’s interior minister who is in charge of policing, prognosticated positive feedback from the populace when he said, “People are unhappy with the social and moral status of the society. They expect that the fight against social insecurity be properly implemented.” Thus, Hujjat al-Islam Pour-Mohammadi re-iterated the necessity of proper implementation and methodology towards the restoration of morality in the Islamic Republic. Islamic officials and religious people affirm that this is indispensable to promote righteousness, curb sin, and bring open sinners to justice.

Following the Islamic Revolution in 1979, hijab became mandatory in Iran for every woman including foreigners after over 98% of citizens voted for an Islamic government. Women may face caning up to 74 strokes for failing to observe hijab. In this recent crackdown, the authorities have arrested many citizens throughout the country. Not only have women been taken into custody for their hair being uncovered on their foreheads and tight clothes that show body shapes, For men they need to cover from knee to their waist as according to Sharia. Even a foreign journalist was detained because the photograph on her press card was indecent.

It has not been clear whence the directive for the re-newed clampdown emanated. Some have blamed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad while Gholam Hossein Elham, the government spokesman, stated to reporters, “The police work as agents of the judiciary to confront crimes. The government as an executive body does not interfere in the affairs of the judiciary.” The following pre-election speech seems to corroborate this latter statement:

In reality, is the problem of our people the shape of the hair of our children? Let our children arrange their hair any way they wish. It doesn’t concern me and you. Let you and me overhaul the basic problems of the nation. The government should fix the economy of the nation and improve its atmosphere…[It should] better psychological security and support the people. People have variegated tastes. As if now the arch obstacle of our nation is the arrangement of our kids’ hair and the government disallowing them <He chuckles>. Is this the government’s responsibility? Is this the people’s merit? In actuality, this is the denigration of our people. Why do you underestimate and belittle the people? It is the real issue of our nation that one of our daughters donned a certain dress? Is this the issue of our nation and the problem of our nation?
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Toothpaste fills cavities without drilling

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Toothpaste fills cavities without drilling
January 31st, 2023 | Uncategorized |

Thursday, February 24, 2005

A paste containing synthetic tooth enamel can seal small cavities without drilling. Kazue Yamagishi and colleagues at the FAP Dental Institute in Tokyo say that the paste can repair small cavities in 15 minutes.

Currently, fillers don’t stick to such small cavities so dentists must drill bigger holes. Hydroxyapatite crystals, of which natural enamel is made, bond with teeth to repair tiny areas of damage.

Yamagishi and colleagues have tested their paste on a lower premolar tooth that showed early signs of decay. They found that the synthetic enamel merged with the natural enamel. The synthetic enamel also appears to make teeth stronger which will improve resistance to future decay. As with drilling, however, there is still the potential for pain: The paste is strongly acidic to encourage crystal growth and causes inflammation if it touches the gums.

The paste is reported in the journal Nature.

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Sulpicio Lines pay PHP6.2 million for death of man in 1998 ferry disaster">
Sulpicio Lines pay PHP6.2 million for death of man in 1998 ferry disaster

January 30th, 2023 | Uncategorized |

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Sulpicio Lines, a ferry company in the Philippines, have been ordered to pay PH?6.24 million over the death of a man on board MV Princess of the Orient, which sank in stormy weather off Batangas in 1998. Ernesto Unabia was one of seventy confirmed fatalities in the disaster, which left eighty more missing.

Unabia was a 37-year-old seaman who worked on international vessels, and earned a ?120,000 salary. According to widow Verna Unabia, who filed the case with her three children, he was going to work on for thirteen more years and then retire. Unabia’s case is the first to be concluded, although most victims settled with Sulpicio without claims being filed.

Although Sulpicio lost their appeal several weeks ago, reporters have only today received access to documentation concerning the case.

Under Philippines law, employers are responsible for their employees actions. However, in Pestaño vs. Sumayang the Supreme court ruled that if it could be proved an employer had taken appropriate diligence when selecting employers then they could not be held responsible.

It was viewed that Sulpicio was responsible as they failed to remove captain Esrum Mahilum from the vessel despite a number of incidents involving the ferry while he was in command of it. Princess of the Orient had struck the bottom of Manila‘s North Harbour, sideswiped a container ship and suffered a crippling engine fire while berthed at North Harbour, being towed first to Cebu and ultimately Singapore for repairs.

Despite these serious incidents while the ship was under Mahilum’s care, however, he was not removed from captaincy or even disciplined. A Board of Marine Inquiry (BMI) investigation into the ultimate sinking of the Princess of the Orient would later say that Sulpicio did not have enough initiative to take action against him. The court ruled this made them responsible for his actions.

On September 18, 1998, the day of the sinking, Captain Mahilum was warned before starting out that severe weather was approaching. He wrongly calculated that the storm was safely distanced and left port regardless, running into the storm two hours later. Princess of the Orient began listing to the left and a distress call was sent, but she sank before help arrived. The BMI’s report blamed the disaster on the captain making “erroneous maneuvers of the vessel before it sank.” He remains missing to this day.

After the court ruled that this made Sulpicio liable to pay civil damages an appeal was filed, in which Sulpicio said that the captain “valiantly tried to save his ship up to the bitter end. He heroically went down with his ship.” Although he failed to properly supervise the abandon ship order he gave, he was last seen helping passengers to board life rafts. Sulpicio further alleged that careful analysis of the BMI report showed he did not directly cause the disaster.

The court rejected the appeal, with judge Estella Alma Singco saying that while the failure to remove the captain wasn’t the direct cause, “such failure doubtless contributed materially to the loss of life.” Sulpicio were ordered to pay P6.240 million in lost earnings, P100,000 moral damages, P50,000 indemnity – which Sulpicio had already offered to all the families of the deceased – and P50,000 in pursuer’s litigation costs.

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Pope in medical crisis">
Pope in medical crisis

January 29th, 2023 | Uncategorized |

Friday, April 1, 2005Several sources report Pope John Paul II, who was receiving nutrition from a tube inserted through his nose, is no longer using the tube. The tube was inserted shortly after the pontiff appeared at his window overlooking St. Peter’s Square and was only able to speak several words.

The tube used was threaded down the nose and throat into the stomach. A surgically implanted tube was also considered at the time, but it was deemed excessively invasive according to Dr. Barbara Paris, director of geriatrics at Maimonides Medical Center in New York.

There are reports the pontiff has a severe urinary tract infection. The infection caused a severe fever which developed into a medical crisis. He is being treated by antibiotics and has recently suffered from heart failure and a significant reduction in kidney function. According to the Vatican, he is currently “lucid”, breathing shallowly, and surrounded by his top aides.

The Pope’s condition has led many to pray — both Catholics and non-Catholics. A large number of people are outside the papal apartment in the Vatican City. Many people have also come to pray at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.

The ailing Pope also suffers from Parkinson’s disease, which makes it difficult for him to talk while knee and hip ailments are taking a serious toll on his mobility. The series of new ailments follows the breathing tube insertion by only a month’s time.

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Category:Featured article">
Category:Featured article

January 26th, 2023 | Uncategorized |
Shortcut:WN:FA

Featured articles are selected by the community to represent the best of Wikinews. See the Featured Article Candidates page for nominations and discussions of candidate articles for this page. Or, subscribe to the RSS feed!

[edit]

Pages in category “Featured article”

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Rob Broudie, top British lawyer, found dead">
Rob Broudie, top British lawyer, found dead

January 24th, 2023 | Uncategorized |

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Rob Broudie, one of Liverpool’s best known lawyers and brother of Lightning Seeds singer Ian Broudie was found dead early on the morning of the 17th October after apparently jumping from the Tower of Liverpool Cathedral. An inquest is expect later in the week.

Mr. Broudie was a staunch critic of the Police and a slightly controversial figure, having once been charged with affray after fighting with another of Liverpool’s lawyers whilst in the cells.

His company, R.M Broudie & Co, is now based on Dale Street in city centre Liverpool.

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Australia men’s national wheelchair basketball team beat Japan 80-49 in final game of pool play">
Australia men’s national wheelchair basketball team beat Japan 80-49 in final game of pool play

January 23rd, 2023 | Uncategorized |

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Homebush Bay, New South Wales —Last night, the Australia men’s national wheelchair basketball team beat Japan 80–49 in their final game of pool play at the Rollers & Gliders World Challenge taking place at at the Sport Centre at the Sydney Olympic Park and are through to the first place match.

The contrast between the two teams was seen in their wheels: almost every Australian player had a four wheeled chair that gave them increased stability while every single Japanese player had three wheels, which gave them great maneuverability. Japan played the aggressor throughout the match, with several players aggressively blocking with wheelchair on wheelchair contact. Both sides were loud, chanting defense, defense, defense when their side was on that side of the court.

The first quarter was closely fought, with Japan racking up 5 by 5:54 left in the first. They successfully took a lead of 17–16 by the end of the first quarter. They were unable to hold the lead, with Australia holding a 40–24 lead at the end of the first half. Australia’s lead at the end of the third was 61–34. While Japan increased their total points in the fourth quarter, they failed to defend against Australia who continued to answer back basket for basket for the game to end 80–49.

Australia plays in the first place match later today. Their London Paralympic campaign starts on August 30 against South Africa.

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Andrea Muizelaar on fashion, anorexia, and life after ‘Top Model’">
Andrea Muizelaar on fashion, anorexia, and life after ‘Top Model’

January 23rd, 2023 | Uncategorized |

Monday, November 26, 2007

In the 18 months since Andrea Muizelaar was crowned winner of the reality TV series Canada’s Next Top Model, her life has been a complete whirlwind. From working in a dollar store in her hometown of Whitby, Ontario, to modeling haute couture in Toronto, she had reached her dream of becoming a true Top Model.

But at what cost? Unknown to casual television viewers, Muizelaar had been enveloped in the eating disorder anorexia nervosa, which inevitably became too much for her to bear. She gave up modeling and moved back to Whitby, where she sought treatment for her disorder, re-entered college, and now works at a bank. Where is she now? Happy and healthy, she says.

Recently Andrea Muizelaar sat down with Wikinews reporter Mike Halterman in a candid interview that stretched to nearly two hours, as she told all about her hopes and aspirations, her battle with anorexia, and just what really happened on Canada’s Next Top Model.

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U.K. National Portrait Gallery threatens U.S. citizen with legal action over Wikimedia images">
U.K. National Portrait Gallery threatens U.S. citizen with legal action over Wikimedia images

January 22nd, 2023 | Uncategorized |

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

This article mentions the Wikimedia Foundation, one of its projects, or people related to it. Wikinews is a project of the Wikimedia Foundation.

The English National Portrait Gallery (NPG) in London has threatened on Friday to sue a U.S. citizen, Derrick Coetzee. The legal letter followed claims that he had breached the Gallery’s copyright in several thousand photographs of works of art uploaded to the Wikimedia Commons, a free online media repository.

In a letter from their solicitors sent to Coetzee via electronic mail, the NPG asserted that it holds copyright in the photographs under U.K. law, and demanded that Coetzee provide various undertakings and remove all of the images from the site (referred to in the letter as “the Wikipedia website”).

Wikimedia Commons is a repository of free-to-use media, run by a community of volunteers from around the world, and is a sister project to Wikinews and the encyclopedia Wikipedia. Coetzee, who contributes to the Commons using the account “Dcoetzee”, had uploaded images that are free for public use under United States law, where he and the website are based. However copyright is claimed to exist in the country where the gallery is situated.

The complaint by the NPG is that under UK law, its copyright in the photographs of its portraits is being violated. While the gallery has complained to the Wikimedia Foundation for a number of years, this is the first direct threat of legal action made against an actual uploader of images. In addition to the allegation that Coetzee had violated the NPG’s copyright, they also allege that Coetzee had, by uploading thousands of images in bulk, infringed the NPG’s database right, breached a contract with the NPG; and circumvented a copyright protection mechanism on the NPG’s web site.

The copyright protection mechanism referred to is Zoomify, a product of Zoomify, Inc. of Santa Cruz, California. NPG’s solicitors stated in their letter that “Our client used the Zoomify technology to protect our client’s copyright in the high resolution images.”. Zoomify Inc. states in the Zoomify support documentation that its product is intended to make copying of images “more difficult” by breaking the image into smaller pieces and disabling the option within many web browsers to click and save images, but that they “provide Zoomify as a viewing solution and not an image security system”.

In particular, Zoomify’s website comments that while “many customers — famous museums for example” use Zoomify, in their experience a “general consensus” seems to exist that most museums are concerned with making the images in their galleries accessible to the public, rather than preventing the public from accessing them or making copies; they observe that a desire to prevent high resolution images being distributed would also imply prohibiting the sale of any posters or production of high quality printed material that could be scanned and placed online.

Other actions in the past have come directly from the NPG, rather than via solicitors. For example, several edits have been made directly to the English-language Wikipedia from the IP address 217.207.85.50, one of sixteen such IP addresses assigned to computers at the NPG by its ISP, Easynet.

In the period from August 2005 to July 2006 an individual within the NPG using that IP address acted to remove the use of several Wikimedia Commons pictures from articles in Wikipedia, including removing an image of the Chandos portrait, which the NPG has had in its possession since 1856, from Wikipedia’s biographical article on William Shakespeare.

Other actions included adding notices to the pages for images, and to the text of several articles using those images, such as the following edit to Wikipedia’s article on Catherine of Braganza and to its page for the Wikipedia Commons image of Branwell Brontë‘s portrait of his sisters:

“THIS IMAGE IS BEING USED WITHOUT PERMISSION FROM THE COPYRIGHT HOLDER.”
“This image is copyright material and must not be reproduced in any way without permission of the copyright holder. Under current UK copyright law, there is copyright in skilfully executed photographs of ex-copyright works, such as this painting of Catherine de Braganza.
The original painting belongs to the National Portrait Gallery, London. For copies, and permission to reproduce the image, please contact the Gallery at picturelibrary@npg.org.uk or via our website at www.npg.org.uk”

Other, later, edits, made on the day that NPG’s solicitors contacted Coetzee and drawn to the NPG’s attention by Wikinews, are currently the subject of an internal investigation within the NPG.

Coetzee published the contents of the letter on Saturday July 11, the letter itself being dated the previous day. It had been sent electronically to an email address associated with his Wikimedia Commons user account. The NPG’s solicitors had mailed the letter from an account in the name “Amisquitta”. This account was blocked shortly after by a user with access to the user blocking tool, citing a long standing Wikipedia policy that the making of legal threats and creation of a hostile environment is generally inconsistent with editing access and is an inappropriate means of resolving user disputes.

The policy, initially created on Commons’ sister website in June 2004, is also intended to protect all parties involved in a legal dispute, by ensuring that their legal communications go through proper channels, and not through a wiki that is open to editing by other members of the public. It was originally formulated primarily to address legal action for libel. In October 2004 it was noted that there was “no consensus” whether legal threats related to copyright infringement would be covered but by the end of 2006 the policy had reached a consensus that such threats (as opposed to polite complaints) were not compatible with editing access while a legal matter was unresolved. Commons’ own website states that “[accounts] used primarily to create a hostile environment for another user may be blocked”.

In a further response, Gregory Maxwell, a volunteer administrator on Wikimedia Commons, made a formal request to the editorial community that Coetzee’s access to administrator tools on Commons should be revoked due to the prevailing circumstances. Maxwell noted that Coetzee “[did] not have the technically ability to permanently delete images”, but stated that Coetzee’s potential legal situation created a conflict of interest.

Sixteen minutes after Maxwell’s request, Coetzee’s “administrator” privileges were removed by a user in response to the request. Coetzee retains “administrator” privileges on the English-language Wikipedia, since none of the images exist on Wikipedia’s own website and therefore no conflict of interest exists on that site.

Legally, the central issue upon which the case depends is that copyright laws vary between countries. Under United States case law, where both the website and Coetzee are located, a photograph of a non-copyrighted two-dimensional picture (such as a very old portrait) is not capable of being copyrighted, and it may be freely distributed and used by anyone. Under UK law that point has not yet been decided, and the Gallery’s solicitors state that such photographs could potentially be subject to copyright in that country.

One major legal point upon which a case would hinge, should the NPG proceed to court, is a question of originality. The U.K.’s Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 defines in ¶ 1(a) that copyright is a right that subsists in “original literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works” (emphasis added). The legal concept of originality here involves the simple origination of a work from an author, and does not include the notions of novelty or innovation that is often associated with the non-legal meaning of the word.

Whether an exact photographic reproduction of a work is an original work will be a point at issue. The NPG asserts that an exact photographic reproduction of a copyrighted work in another medium constitutes an original work, and this would be the basis for its action against Coetzee. This view has some support in U.K. case law. The decision of Walter v Lane held that exact transcriptions of speeches by journalists, in shorthand on reporter’s notepads, were original works, and thus copyrightable in themselves. The opinion by Hugh Laddie, Justice Laddie, in his book The Modern Law of Copyright, points out that photographs lie on a continuum, and that photographs can be simple copies, derivative works, or original works:

“[…] it is submitted that a person who makes a photograph merely by placing a drawing or painting on the glass of a photocopying machine and pressing the button gets no copyright at all; but he might get a copyright if he employed skill and labour in assembling the thing to be photocopied, as where he made a montage.”

Various aspects of this continuum have already been explored in the courts. Justice Neuberger, in the decision at Antiquesportfolio.com v Rodney Fitch & Co. held that a photograph of a three-dimensional object would be copyrightable if some exercise of judgement of the photographer in matters of angle, lighting, film speed, and focus were involved. That exercise would create an original work. Justice Oliver similarly held, in Interlego v Tyco Industries, that “[i]t takes great skill, judgement and labour to produce a good copy by painting or to produce an enlarged photograph from a positive print, but no-one would reasonably contend that the copy, painting, or enlargement was an ‘original’ artistic work in which the copier is entitled to claim copyright. Skill, labour or judgement merely in the process of copying cannot confer originality.”.

In 2000 the Museums Copyright Group, a copyright lobbying group, commissioned a report and legal opinion on the implications of the Bridgeman case for the UK, which stated:

“Revenue raised from reproduction fees and licensing is vital to museums to support their primary educational and curatorial objectives. Museums also rely on copyright in photographs of works of art to protect their collections from inaccurate reproduction and captioning… as a matter of principle, a photograph of an artistic work can qualify for copyright protection in English law”. The report concluded by advocating that “museums must continue to lobby” to protect their interests, to prevent inferior quality images of their collections being distributed, and “not least to protect a vital source of income”.

Several people and organizations in the U.K. have been awaiting a test case that directly addresses the issue of copyrightability of exact photographic reproductions of works in other media. The commonly cited legal case Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corp. found that there is no originality where the aim and the result is a faithful and exact reproduction of the original work. The case was heard twice in New York, once applying UK law and once applying US law. It cited the prior UK case of Interlego v Tyco Industries (1988) in which Lord Oliver stated that “Skill, labour or judgement merely in the process of copying cannot confer originality.”

“What is important about a drawing is what is visually significant and the re-drawing of an existing drawing […] does not make it an original artistic work, however much labour and skill may have gone into the process of reproduction […]”

The Interlego judgement had itself drawn upon another UK case two years earlier, Coca-Cola Go’s Applications, in which the House of Lords drew attention to the “undesirability” of plaintiffs seeking to expand intellectual property law beyond the purpose of its creation in order to create an “undeserving monopoly”. It commented on this, that “To accord an independent artistic copyright to every such reproduction would be to enable the period of artistic copyright in what is, essentially, the same work to be extended indefinitely… ”

The Bridgeman case concluded that whether under UK or US law, such reproductions of copyright-expired material were not capable of being copyrighted.

The unsuccessful plaintiff, Bridgeman Art Library, stated in 2006 in written evidence to the House of Commons Committee on Culture, Media and Sport that it was “looking for a similar test case in the U.K. or Europe to fight which would strengthen our position”.

The National Portrait Gallery is a non-departmental public body based in London England and sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Founded in 1856, it houses a collection of portraits of historically important and famous British people. The gallery contains more than 11,000 portraits and 7,000 light-sensitive works in its Primary Collection, 320,000 in the Reference Collection, over 200,000 pictures and negatives in the Photographs Collection and a library of around 35,000 books and manuscripts. (More on the National Portrait Gallery here)

The gallery’s solicitors are Farrer & Co LLP, of London. Farrer’s clients have notably included the British Royal Family, in a case related to extracts from letters sent by Diana, Princess of Wales which were published in a book by ex-butler Paul Burrell. (In that case, the claim was deemed unlikely to succeed, as the extracts were not likely to be in breach of copyright law.)

Farrer & Co have close ties with industry interest groups related to copyright law. Peter Wienand, Head of Intellectual Property at Farrer & Co., is a member of the Executive body of the Museums Copyright Group, which is chaired by Tom Morgan, Head of Rights and Reproductions at the National Portrait Gallery. The Museums Copyright Group acts as a lobbying organization for “the interests and activities of museums and galleries in the area of [intellectual property rights]”, which reacted strongly against the Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corp. case.

Wikimedia Commons is a repository of images, media, and other material free for use by anyone in the world. It is operated by a community of 21,000 active volunteers, with specialist rights such as deletion and blocking restricted to around 270 experienced users in the community (known as “administrators”) who are trusted by the community to use them to enact the wishes and policies of the community. Commons is hosted by the Wikimedia Foundation, a charitable body whose mission is to make available free knowledge and historic and other material which is legally distributable under US law. (More on Commons here)

The legal threat also sparked discussions of moral issues and issues of public policy in several Internet discussion fora, including Slashdot, over the weekend. One major public policy issue relates to how the public domain should be preserved.

Some of the public policy debate over the weekend has echoed earlier opinions presented by Kenneth Hamma, the executive director for Digital Policy at the J. Paul Getty Trust. Writing in D-Lib Magazine in November 2005, Hamma observed:

“Art museums and many other collecting institutions in this country hold a trove of public-domain works of art. These are works whose age precludes continued protection under copyright law. The works are the result of and evidence for human creativity over thousands of years, an activity museums celebrate by their very existence. For reasons that seem too frequently unexamined, many museums erect barriers that contribute to keeping quality images of public domain works out of the hands of the general public, of educators, and of the general milieu of creativity. In restricting access, art museums effectively take a stand against the creativity they otherwise celebrate. This conflict arises as a result of the widely accepted practice of asserting rights in the images that the museums make of the public domain works of art in their collections.”

He also stated:

“This resistance to free and unfettered access may well result from a seemingly well-grounded concern: many museums assume that an important part of their core business is the acquisition and management of rights in art works to maximum return on investment. That might be true in the case of the recording industry, but it should not be true for nonprofit institutions holding public domain art works; it is not even their secondary business. Indeed, restricting access seems all the more inappropriate when measured against a museum’s mission — a responsibility to provide public access. Their charitable, financial, and tax-exempt status demands such. The assertion of rights in public domain works of art — images that at their best closely replicate the values of the original work — differs in almost every way from the rights managed by the recording industry. Because museums and other similar collecting institutions are part of the private nonprofit sector, the obligation to treat assets as held in public trust should replace the for-profit goal. To do otherwise, undermines the very nature of what such institutions were created to do.”

Hamma observed in 2005 that “[w]hile examples of museums chasing down digital image miscreants are rare to non-existent, the expectation that museums might do so has had a stultifying effect on the development of digital image libraries for teaching and research.”

The NPG, which has been taking action with respect to these images since at least 2005, is a public body. It was established by Act of Parliament, the current Act being the Museums and Galleries Act 1992. In that Act, the NPG Board of Trustees is charged with maintaining “a collection of portraits of the most eminent persons in British history, of other works of art relevant to portraiture and of documents relating to those portraits and other works of art”. It also has the tasks of “secur[ing] that the portraits are exhibited to the public” and “generally promot[ing] the public’s enjoyment and understanding of portraiture of British persons and British history through portraiture both by means of the Board’s collection and by such other means as they consider appropriate”.

Several commentators have questioned how the NPG’s statutory goals align with its threat of legal action. Mike Masnick, founder of Techdirt, asked “The people who run the Gallery should be ashamed of themselves. They ought to go back and read their own mission statement[. …] How, exactly, does suing someone for getting those portraits more attention achieve that goal?” (external link Masnick’s). L. Sutherland of Bigmouthmedia asked “As the paintings of the NPG technically belong to the nation, does that mean that they should also belong to anyone that has access to a computer?”

Other public policy debates that have been sparked have included the applicability of U.K. courts, and U.K. law, to the actions of a U.S. citizen, residing in the U.S., uploading files to servers hosted in the U.S.. Two major schools of thought have emerged. Both see the issue as encroachment of one legal system upon another. But they differ as to which system is encroaching. One view is that the free culture movement is attempting to impose the values and laws of the U.S. legal system, including its case law such as Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corp., upon the rest of the world. Another view is that a U.K. institution is attempting to control, through legal action, the actions of a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil.

David Gerard, former Press Officer for Wikimedia UK, the U.K. chapter of the Wikimedia Foundation, which has been involved with the “Wikipedia Loves Art” contest to create free content photographs of exhibits at the Victoria and Albert Museum, stated on Slashdot that “The NPG actually acknowledges in their letter that the poster’s actions were entirely legal in America, and that they’re making a threat just because they think they can. The Wikimedia community and the WMF are absolutely on the side of these public domain images remaining in the public domain. The NPG will be getting radioactive publicity from this. Imagine the NPG being known to American tourists as somewhere that sues Americans just because it thinks it can.”

Benjamin Crowell, a physics teacher at Fullerton College in California, stated that he had received a letter from the Copyright Officer at the NPG in 2004, with respect to the picture of the portrait of Isaac Newton used in his physics textbooks, that he publishes in the U.S. under a free content copyright licence, to which he had replied with a pointer to Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corp..

The Wikimedia Foundation takes a similar stance. Erik Möller, the Deputy Director of the US-based Wikimedia Foundation wrote in 2008 that “we’ve consistently held that faithful reproductions of two-dimensional public domain works which are nothing more than reproductions should be considered public domain for licensing purposes”.

Contacted over the weekend, the NPG issued a statement to Wikinews:

“The National Portrait Gallery is very strongly committed to giving access to its Collection. In the past five years the Gallery has spent around £1 million digitising its Collection to make it widely available for study and enjoyment. We have so far made available on our website more than 60,000 digital images, which have attracted millions of users, and we believe this extensive programme is of great public benefit.
“The Gallery supports Wikipedia in its aim of making knowledge widely available and we would be happy for the site to use our low-resolution images, sufficient for most forms of public access, subject to safeguards. However, in March 2009 over 3000 high-resolution files were appropriated from the National Portrait Gallery website and published on Wikipedia without permission.
“The Gallery is very concerned that potential loss of licensing income from the high-resolution files threatens its ability to reinvest in its digitisation programme and so make further images available. It is one of the Gallery’s primary purposes to make as much of the Collection available as possible for the public to view.
“Digitisation involves huge costs including research, cataloguing, conservation and highly-skilled photography. Images then need to be made available on the Gallery website as part of a structured and authoritative database. To date, Wikipedia has not responded to our requests to discuss the issue and so the National Portrait Gallery has been obliged to issue a lawyer’s letter. The Gallery remains willing to enter into a dialogue with Wikipedia.

In fact, Matthew Bailey, the Gallery’s (then) Assistant Picture Library Manager, had already once been in a similar dialogue. Ryan Kaldari, an amateur photographer from Nashville, Tennessee, who also volunteers at the Wikimedia Commons, states that he was in correspondence with Bailey in October 2006. In that correspondence, according to Kaldari, he and Bailey failed to conclude any arrangement.

Jay Walsh, the Head of Communications for the Wikimedia Foundation, which hosts the Commons, called the gallery’s actions “unfortunate” in the Foundation’s statement, issued on Tuesday July 14:

“The mission of the Wikimedia Foundation is to empower and engage people around the world to collect and develop educational content under a free license or in the public domain, and to disseminate it effectively and globally. To that end, we have very productive working relationships with a number of galleries, archives, museums and libraries around the world, who join with us to make their educational materials available to the public.
“The Wikimedia Foundation does not control user behavior, nor have we reviewed every action taken by that user. Nonetheless, it is our general understanding that the user in question has behaved in accordance with our mission, with the general goal of making public domain materials available via our Wikimedia Commons project, and in accordance with applicable law.”

The Foundation added in its statement that as far as it was aware, the NPG had not attempted “constructive dialogue”, and that the volunteer community was presently discussing the matter independently.

In part, the lack of past agreement may have been because of a misunderstanding by the National Portrait Gallery of Commons and Wikipedia’s free content mandate; and of the differences between Wikipedia, the Wikimedia Foundation, the Wikimedia Commons, and the individual volunteer workers who participate on the various projects supported by the Foundation.

Like Coetzee, Ryan Kaldari is a volunteer worker who does not represent Wikipedia or the Wikimedia Commons. (Such representation is impossible. Both Wikipedia and the Commons are endeavours supported by the Wikimedia Foundation, and not organizations in themselves.) Nor, again like Coetzee, does he represent the Wikimedia Foundation.

Kaldari states that he explained the free content mandate to Bailey. Bailey had, according to copies of his messages provided by Kaldari, offered content to Wikipedia (naming as an example the photograph of John Opie‘s 1797 portrait of Mary Wollstonecraft, whose copyright term has since expired) but on condition that it not be free content, but would be subject to restrictions on its distribution that would have made it impossible to use by any of the many organizations that make use of Wikipedia articles and the Commons repository, in the way that their site-wide “usable by anyone” licences ensures.

The proposed restrictions would have also made it impossible to host the images on Wikimedia Commons. The image of the National Portrait Gallery in this article, above, is one such free content image; it was provided and uploaded to the Wikimedia Commons under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation Licence, and is thus able to be used and republished not only on Wikipedia but also on Wikinews, on other Wikimedia Foundation projects, as well as by anyone in the world, subject to the terms of the GFDL, a license that guarantees attribution is provided to the creators of the image.

As Commons has grown, many other organizations have come to different arrangements with volunteers who work at the Wikimedia Commons and at Wikipedia. For example, in February 2009, fifteen international museums including the Brooklyn Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum established a month-long competition where users were invited to visit in small teams and take high quality photographs of their non-copyright paintings and other exhibits, for upload to Wikimedia Commons and similar websites (with restrictions as to equipment, required in order to conserve the exhibits), as part of the “Wikipedia Loves Art” contest.

Approached for comment by Wikinews, Jim Killock, the executive director of the Open Rights Group, said “It’s pretty clear that these images themselves should be in the public domain. There is a clear public interest in making sure paintings and other works are usable by anyone once their term of copyright expires. This is what US courts have recognised, whatever the situation in UK law.”

The Digital Britain report, issued by the U.K.’s Department for Culture, Media, and Sport in June 2009, stated that “Public cultural institutions like Tate, the Royal Opera House, the RSC, the Film Council and many other museums, libraries, archives and galleries around the country now reach a wider public online.” Culture minster Ben Bradshaw was also approached by Wikinews for comment on the public policy issues surrounding the on-line availability of works in the public domain held in galleries, re-raised by the NPG’s threat of legal action, but had not responded by publication time.

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