Imagine that I want to file a complaint against a candidate for public office in Washington State who I believe has violated campaign laws. If I file a complaint with the Public Disclosure Commission, can I legally download images from the candidate's copyrighted website and add them to my complaint?

Essentially, I want to create a PDF that combines my complaint with the images that I want to use as evidence. I will then upload the PDF to the Public Disclosure Commission's website, where it will be on public display.

I know that it has been done, but I want to make sure it's legal before I do it.


The most you can hope for is that is it very probably legal. Without author's permission, you will have literally violated copyright law. If you are sued, you have a defense available to you, namely "fair use". The problem with fair use is that it's a balancing act, but is it very probable that you would prevail primarily on the grounds that your use constitutes "commentary" which is the primary raison d'etre of the fair use defense. Additionally, your usage is highly transformative (completely changes the nature of the work), and has no effect on the market for the work (there is no market for the work itself, even if there is a market for the product being advertised), though that could change in case a candidate requires voters to pay for their campaign flyers. However, I have not found any rulings on point regarding copying of documents as required for a legal proceeding. It is highly unlikely that the courts would impair your right to pursue statutorily provided means of law enforcement based on the need to make a copy of the evidence. Online submission is not strictly necessary so one avenue would be to petition the executive director to allow a physical-mail filing, but it is also highly unlikely that he would grant the exception. While it "makes sense" that submitting (copyright-protected) evidence is allowed, it is not the only imaginable outcome.

  • I think the Unabomber complained about copyright infringement by the police, Who duplicated his blackmail letters, but it didn’t get anywhere.
    – gnasher729
    Aug 11 '20 at 8:19

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