Under United States law, government reports such as the Mueller Report are public domain and cannot be copyrighted. Under the current online copyright regimen, however, numerous people who have attempted to upload the Mueller Report to services like Scribd have been hit with copyright infringement notices.
Scribd is a service that allows users to upload documents for easy embedding. It’s commonly used by journalists to attach things like legal complaints or court records to articles based on those records. It is therefore not at all surprising that a number of people and news outlets uploaded the Mueller report to Scribd.
Scribd has an automated filter that searches uploads to check for alleged copyright infringement called BookID. BookID, like YouTube’s Content ID, has a propensity for false positives. This apparently happens so often that Scribd’s own page on the system has a whole section devoted to “false positives,” explaining:
The BookID database may contain reference samples from educational textbooks and other works that contain long excerpts of classic literature, religious texts, legal documents, and government publications that are typically in the public domain. This can occasionally result in the removal of uncopyrighted, authorized, or public domain material from Scribd.
False positives also happen enough that Scribd sent a letter—obtained by Quartz—to people whose uploads of the Mueller report were taken down, to lower people’s expectations. The letter explains that a) all automated systems will flag legitimate content b) the volume of content on Scribd means no one checks on the matches before the alleged infringing content is taken down and c) sometimes legitimate uploads are taken down just for being duplicates.
Meanwhile, regulators around the world look to these sort of broken filters automatically take down everything from threats of violence to pornography to copyright violations.