US Customs: Sketching an SUV makes you a copyright infringer

Vidiot sez, "A woman stopped by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers at the border, over a drawing of an SUV in her notebook. They thought the artist and college professor was an industrial spy and copyright infringer."

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers told Zempel they suspected her of copyright infringement.

She was released after more than an hour in custody at the Houlton, Maine, port of entry from New Brunswick, Canada.

Her release came only after she persuaded border guards she was an artist doing a project that involved a crocheted SUV as a statement against America's dependence on oil and love for big vehicles.

And these are the rocket-scientists we want to give clones of our hard-drives to? As Cardinal Richelieu said, "If you give me six lines written by the most honest man, I will find something in them to hang him."

Keene artist had hard time getting back into US (Thanks, Vidiot)


  1. Damn you evil crocheter spy and you filthy crocheteries!

    Why use microfilm or send an e-mail when you can crochete your way into industrial espionage?

  2. Hmmmm . . . I have hanging on my refrigerator a sheet of pictures of Carvel ice cream treats, as rendered in crayon by my niece.

    Do you think I could sell them to Baskin Robbins?

  3. These border guards have inadvertently revealed classified technology that is currently being developed involving devices implanted in the mirrors of SUVs. They “listen” for the telltale EMF signatures of IEDs by the side of the road in order to give warning to contractors traveling in convoys of Suburbans and Escalades.

    “Mirrors = Ears” is what freaked them out.

  4. I’m hesitating among:

    A) “Just what were you doing in Canada?” Hmmm, checking out how ‘a fair society’ behaves?

    B) “I had to spell Fordham for her.”
    You gotta watch those polysyllabic words… They’re tricky, gosh darn!
    (Audio-visualize Sarah Palin, here. Or even better, Tina Fey’s scathing impresson of her.)
    (Does anyone have a word for ‘picturing an audio image’?)

    C) Customs and Border Protection spokesman Theodore Woo….did say agents are trained in trademark and copyright laws. “It’s a part of a CBP officer’s training. Time is set aside for intellectual-property-rights training.”

    Since I regularly surf, I’ll pick “C)”.

    I suspect that the ‘training’ is of the same order as that given to the ‘workers’ at Wal-Mart photo labs. They are ‘trained’ to refuse to print any well-shot photo, on the grounds that if the image isn’t out of focus, then it must have been a professional photographer who shot it.
    (The necessary prerequisite implication, of course, is that no professional photographer would ever shop at Wal-Mart. Why? ‘Cuz they make soooo much money, no?)

    But I digress.

    I suppose that the clue that ms. Zemple’s sketch was copyright infringement was that she managed to keep all of their lines within the page.

    crochetarily yours,

    ps.: I’m planning to travel to Montreal around Nov 6th and hope to attend JRS’s talk at the Musée des Beaux-Arts. Any other takers?

  5. Remember, Madame Defarge used her knitting to transfer secret messages…

    … it’s clear that all the Crafty Types are part of the Great Cabal to Undermine Democracy and Freedom!

  6. Gah! It doesn’t matter how many times you proofread! Grrr!

    That antipenultimate line should have been:
    I suppose that the clue that ms. Zemple’s sketch was copyright infringement was that she managed to keep all of her lines within the page.

  7. #4
    “(Does anyone have a word for ‘picturing an audio image’?)”

    Why not just “Imagine S.P here, or better…” ?

  8. Even in my constant state of outrage-fatigue over stuff like this, I’m feeling a bit of a twinge.

    All one can say, (for the zillionth time) is WTF?

  9. Since when has U.S. customs been responsible for copyright enforcement? Copyright has always been a civil matter.

  10. …and when she orginally crossed the border, going North:
    Canadian border guard: “Aw jeez, that sure looks like a good picture. You must be some kind of artist, eh.”
    Then he asked if she was bringing across any fruits or vegetables, and waved her through.

  11. Is this the same border crossing that let a kid who’d just murdered his neighbors across with a blood covered machete a couple of years ago?

  12. #12: If you’re thinking of Gregory Despres (and BOY is that a charming photo), he crossed at Calais, Maine, not Houlton, Maine.

    He also wasn’t covered in blood and carrying a machete (you may be thinking Jason Vourhese) although he did have a bloody chainsaw. They siezed his weapons and fingerprinted him… and then waved him over the border into the states.

    Even the laid back Canadian customs wouldn’t do that. Admittedly our agents would probably be hiding under the table instead, but still.

  13. PS: Google is beginning to frighten me. I thought I’d need more specific nouns than “canada US border crossing blood covered murderer fugitive”…

    … although in retrospect, how many blood covered fugitives from justice show up at Canadian-US border crossings?

  14. If that SUV doodle is her supposed “copyright infringement”… perhaps she actually IS an industrial spy — but a really bad one! The crocheting excuse is just a handy dodge to avoid embarrassment among the espionage elite.

    How in the world did any sane human being decide that sketch was ANYTHING but a quick sketch?! Forget the screwed-up nature of copyright, civil vs criminal enforcement, border checks, and anything else — this is just an unimaginably *stupid* occurrence.

  15. #11: To be precise, she would have gone East to enter Canada at that crossing.

    #12: Kinda close, it’s some 300 kms South of the Houlton crossing – He used the St-Stephen/Calais crossing. On foot, if I recall.

    And, it was a bloody chainsaw. And he was carrying a homemade sword, a hatchet, a knife, brass knuckles, and that chainsaw.

    Good policework, Lou…

  16. That highly detailed schematic is quite obviously the work of a corporate espionage agent! Arrest her!

  17. I accidently put SUV in Google images and saw lots of more detailed images.

    I’m just off now to turn myself in.

  18. Need to get the border guards on this because the DOJ just told congress they had neither time nor interest in acting as free prosecution counsel for private industry …

    No job too small or petty for US Customs and Homeland Security since the million terrorists on their s00pr s33kr1t databases just aren’t lining up to be arrested, darn it!

  19. Poor America indeed. All the funny comments aside this is outrageous. boingboing has had many discussions about copyright issues and I expected to see this one here. The idea that a Customs and Border Protection agent would have the wherewithal to “defend” us from copyright infringement is beyond belief. This, and other harassment techniques at our borders, is just one in a long line of the “post 9/11” thug mentality acted out in the security theater.

  20. Read the article again and consider who this lady is and what she does, then consider that she was detained not for what she posessed, but for what she is

    The copyright issue is a ruse. She was detained because she is an artist who dares to speak out against “Homeland Security” in her work. As a intellectual who favours for the opposing side she’s on the watchlist.

  21. Ah, security theater. We need more variety in our security theater; less farce, more musical comedy!

  22. I have a friend who is an inventor. I told him the Patent and Trademark Office may be able to get through the huge backlog of applications by hiring some Customs and Border Protection agents as examiners.

  23. @26, singing border patrol… now there’s a scary image. And humour in them? Everyone knows that border patrolmen and women have no humour. At least it’s always advised never to make jokes. Especially not when you’re asked questions like: “Did you pack your bags yourself?”
    ‘No, I let a weird man with a black beard do that for me. Said his name was Odama, Ozama or something.’

  24. #16: “PS: Google is beginning to frighten me. I thought I’d need more specific nouns than “canada US border crossing blood covered murderer fugitive”…”

    What’s even scarier is that googling now for “canada US border crossing blood covered murderer fugitive” brings up this thread as the first result.

    As to the actual matter: This much of stupidity paired with force is really frightening. Because they don’t know better or are unsure they push it. After all she COULD have been a spy. COULD. This nagging thought, you can’t let go of eh? This wasn’t even anything related to terrorism, it was a doodle of which they believed to be industrial espionage. My god.

    This isn’t the world it used to be 10 years ago, and it’s certainly not the world I’ve signed up for! Time to change it back!

  25. We have to stop them from crocheting there so we won’t have them crocheting here.

    When Obama is elected, will we be allowed to harass people for being pro-war and pro-oil and anti-environmental? Will conservative and Republican become the new Librul?
    Probably not, us libruls are too tolerant…

  26. Doesn’t the border know that we design and manufacture SUVs in Canada as well? Jeez.. good thing this poor lady doesn’t do macrame as well or she’d probably get brought up on wiretapping charges or something. Though it was certainly not the smartest thing in the world to admit that her non-infringing sketch was related to protesting American excess – especially since the average Canadian generates much more waste than the average American.

    P.s., Boing Boing, you may or may not be interested to know that I’m browsing and commenting on your site within a company that uses Websense web filtering. I thought they’d banned you as porn or something.

  27. Jeepers! You can’t draw an SUV! How would they treat you if they found you with a photo of one?

    Instant gas chamber?

    I guess US customs must be arresting plenty of five year olds at the moment. My little one is always drawing cars and the like.

    DMA = Digital Madness Act

    Alex from Milan, Italy – where you need to get a parent’s permission before photographing kids.

  28. Hopefully nobody who has to cross the Canadian/US border goes to an auto show and takes a lot of pictures. THINK OF THE COPYRIGHT ISSUES!

    Also, according to that Gregory Despres wiki entry: “He presented himself to the U.S. border guards while carrying a homemade sword, a hatchet, a knife, brass knuckles and a chainsaw stained with what appeared to be blood. At the border, Despres boasted of being an assassin for the United States government and of having killed 700. Although the weapons were confiscated and Despres fingerprinted, Despres held a U.S. citizenship and was nonetheless permitted to enter United States.”

    How is that NOT somebody who gets stopped? At least for some kind of psychological testing or something?

  29. This is insane. I read this stuff and get super paranoid about border crossings. Then I make my twice yearly drive up to Montreal and the border guys say “what’s the purpose of your visit?” and “Are you carrying any weapons, fruits or vegetables?”. I answer, they stamp my passport and I go through. I have a feeling these stops have more to do with what you look like, and what comes up when they put your name in the computer then anything you’ve drawn in a notebook.

  30. Maybe Ms. Zemple could crochet the DHS a common brain, it would certainly work better then the model currently in use.

  31. Funny coincidence:

    On the first episode of “Life on Mars”, Episode 1 “Out Here in the Fields”, the character played by Gretchen Moll, Annie ‘No Nuts’ Norris, is a psych major at … wait for it .. Fordham. Just like our real-life artist.

  32. Christ, somebody remind me not to draw a penis on the way through Customs – they’ll accuse me of trafficking in body parts.

  33. Just watched her story on the Colbert Report. No link available yet.. will probably be on by tomorrow.

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