Recently, I wrote about Acromax Media and their efforts to shut down criticism of the Albanian government on social media using copyright laws. I explained how Acromax has shut down pages and profiles that have used video clips from public TV shows because they consider any segment, no matter how long, as an artistic work.
Clearly, by these standards, any grassroots organizations or new media outlets would have a very hard time to engage in a political debate.
Today, I will try to explain what type of videos have been blocked, and how this has led to the removal of entire pages and profiles. Furthermore, I will also explain how none of this follows normal copyright standards applied anywhere in the developed world.
What videos has Acromax removed?
Acromax has claimed ownership on any video post which uses segments from Albania’s public television networks. In the most egregious cases, they have claimed property even when the video clips have been used in montages, prepared by the pages themselves, to contrast political statements.
As I explained last week, Acromax was especially focused on videos that used Erion Veliaj’s 2015 campaign promised regarding constructions. Any video montage which relied on his no-construction promise from 2015 was taken down.
For example, after winning the elections, Erion Veliaj declared on Top-Channel that one of Tirana’s last remaining sports grounds near the city center (known by many as the black field due to the color of the sand) was going to be turned into a park. He also repeated his promise that Tirana’s constant construction would be terminated, and public areas would be saved. This turned out to be a lie, as a 13-story tower is now being developed in the former sports ground.
This video was immediately struck down by Acromax across multiple pages and never allowed to gain any traction on social networks.
Another similar promise was made by Veliaj a few days before the 2015 elections. On Vizion Plus, Erion Veliaj declared that the area beneath the Tirana Lake Park dam would be turned into “a wonderful park, thanks to an international competition”. As we know now, the entire area and beyond is being turned into a never-ending series of residential towers.
Veliaj’s most important statement, where he clearly articulated his promise, and which haunts him to this day, was made on June 9th, 2015, on Albania’s most important political talk show- TV Klan’s Opinion. For the first and, until now, last time in his career, Veliaj was grilled by several questions, mainly by Andi Bushati. Faced with constant skepticism Veliaj went all-in on promises. He declared that:
- Tirana and its suburbs were overbuilt;
- Plenty of unsold units existed and there was no need to grant more building permits;
- He would halt the entire process for the foreseeable future;
- If the need ever arose for new development, this would occur outside current areas because the city was, again, overcrowded.
This statement, as we now know, has proven entirely false. Veliaj’s construction raid knows no limits and is leading the city towards total collapse. Yet, he has tried to shy away from his 2015 statements by often trying to twist his promise. Unfortunately for him, the 2015 statement has been used repeatedly in video montages such as this one:
Acromax has gone after this, and similar videos, by claiming that the 2015 promise is its “intellectual property” due to an agreement with TV Klan, and thus can’t be used.
Similar to these posts, other brief clips, edited or not, taken from public TV shows, have been repeatedly removed. A number of private individuals have also complained that Acromax is preventing them from using videos where they appear.
As of right now, we know that “Ne Shqiperia”, a Facebook page which was especially focused on urban developments in Tirana, has been entirely removed. Other pages such as Qytetarët për Parkun, Protestuesi, Nisma Thurje, Lolita., Aleanca për Mbrojtjen e Teatrit, Brryli Broadway, etc., have also had numerous video posts removed. In some cases, their publishing rights have been temporarily blocked, and the personal profiles of the administrators have also been removed.
Is any of this legal?
No, it is not!
Under U.S Copyright Law of 1976, Section 107, the “fair use” of copyright materials is allowed for “purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research”. As long as users are not using the content for monetization purposes but strictly for information or education purposes, according to Section 107, copyright material can be used, even without the consent of the producer. This provision allows numerous video content to be shared by private individuals across social networks, even if they include copyright music or film.
Keep in mind, Section 107 applies to what is traditionally considered copyright material – music, film, sporting events, etc. It is difficult to claim that talk shows about public issues, on public airwaves, qualify to be considered “copyright material” in the first place! In fact, I have not been able to find any cases where copyright laws have been used to prevent the distribution of this type of content – as no one has been crazy enough to claim this. Preventing the use of political content would easily be seen as a violation of freedom of speech rights.
It is quite clear that using statements from public talk show content, focused on public issues, for information purposes, without monetizing the content, overwhelmingly qualifies under the “fair use” provision. In fact, it is the quintessential case for which “fair use” was probably written for.
The United States has long set the bar regarding the use of copyright laws. As the largest producer of entertainment and scientific material, the US has long forced other countries to enforce copyright laws. Any country interested in trading with the US – practically everyone – has had to update and enforce property rights according to US standards – which includes “fair use”.
Acromax’s campaign is politically motivated and is infringing the basic political rights of a democratic society. Unfortunately for them, it is also completely illegal. Applying copyright laws to political content was a serious mistake, one which will likely cost the company soon in the near future.