Fandoms, we need to talk about copyright…

Disclaimer: I am not a legal expert. I have studied media law at university and have a basic understanding of copyright legislation.

It’s easy to lose yourself within a fan community. News and updates about our favourite stars are constant and soon circulate on social media sites such as Twitter and Tumblr. Fandom members are passionate, dedicated and excitable, and whilst such a mindset is understandable, it can sometimes lead to some oversight – particularly when it comes to copyright infringement.

Timothée Chalamet (centre, in red) on set for The King, coming to Netflix next year. It’s photos and videos I took of this shoot which were reposted online without my permission or credit. Photo: Liam O’Dell.

It was the start of a boiling hot week in Lincoln and news of filming on the grounds of the city’s cathedral had soon spread across the county. Local residents had gathered outside when news spread that one of the film’s producers, Brad Pitt, could possibly be in town.

Alas, he was not, but the lead actor in the new Netflix drama, Call Me By Your Name’s Timothée Chalamet, was. He plays the role of Henry V in The King, which is believed to come out next year.

News emerged that the historic cathedral would be used for Henry’s coronation, and this appeared to be the case when a blue carpet was rolled out, and Chalamet emerged nestled in a line of people marching towards the building. Keen to do some reporting, I got out my phone camera and started taking photos and video to share online. Things were going well, and the fact that I was seeing a film shoot unfold right in front of me was very exciting indeed.

Just moments after sharing a video of the shot being filmed on Twitter, tagging the actor, things took an interesting turn.

First of all, a fan account for the drama was quick to get in touch, asking if they could repost my image. I wasn’t so keen, preferring a retweet so that the content was on my account, rather than being reposted on somebody else’s – potentially without credit.

On this occasion, they did repost with credit – which was fine – and I soon settled for this as a compromise, knowing that even a credit on any reposted image could still help my social media following. Yet, as more people came across the photos and video, some weren’t providing the credit I asked for.

Granted, they probably weren’t aware of my request to provide credit until I notified them asking them to do so, but even this alludes to a larger problem within fan communities. This being the issue of copyright, and fans sharing any content displaying their favourite celebrity without real understanding of the consequences of doing so.

In fact, in around eight instances, I had to submit takedown requests to Instagram and YouTube (seven for the former, and one for the latter, I believe). In one case, an individual said my video was not copyrighted, which is not true.

Of course, under Section 11 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, “the author of a work is the first owner of any copyright in it”. In terms of ‘broadcasts’ (this being the video I shared on Twitter), it’s “the person making the broadcast”.

Nevertheless, I have, for the most part, been lenient on fan accounts sharing my images and videos – I understand their excitement. In fact, it happened in January when fans of Downtown Abbey star Michelle Dockery reposted a photo of me meeting the star in London. However, all it takes is for one fan to share a copyrighted image online which the original owner doesn’t like (or feels infringes on their copyright) and then there’s a very difficult situation indeed.

Sure, in the case of, say, television shows, the networks may be okay with fans sharing promotional images, even though these photos are still copyrighted. This is probably on the grounds of free promotion (hundreds of fans sharing their promotional image is great for getting the word out), or the act of submitting hundreds of takedown requests is probably too laborious.

I remember the discussions we would have in school about how taking an image from Google Images is a big copyright faux pas. Are we now seeing said faux pas making its way into fan communities instead?

If so, then we need to build upon the cautiousness we already possess on social media when it comes to fake news, and introduce a greater sense of awareness around copyright within fan communities.

As someone who mingles in a couple of fandoms myself, these groups open up opportunities for creativity, collaboration and friendships. Such an experience should not be diminished by a careless approach to sharing images of our favourite stars online.

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To meme or not to meme? Thoughts on the EU Commission’s Article 13 copyright directive | Liam O’Dell

Try to regulate the Internet, and you will get memed.

In the middle of a controversial debate around net neutrality in the United States, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai tried to win support with a cringeworthy promotional video. In addition to the strong opposition to the new plans, the video was repeatedly mocked and parodied by Internet creators around the world.

Photo: World Bank Photo Collection/Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/legalcode.

Next in line to propose new regulations on the Internet is the European Commission, who, through a new copyright directive known as Article 13, want to “[improve] the position of rightholders to negotiate and be remunerated for the exploitation of their content by online services giving access to user-uploaded content” and make sure that “authors and rightholders receive a fair share of the value that is generated by the use of their works and other subject-matter”.

The concern comes from campaign groups such as Save Your Internet, who argue that websites will have to “implement complex and expensive filtering systems and will be held liable for copyright infringement, potentially incurring fines that threaten their economic viability”.

“The days of communicating through gifs and memes, listening to our favourite remixes online or sharing videos of our friends singing at karaoke might be coming to an end,” it goes on to add. It was these specific concerns about memes which made the headlines in media organisations such as BBC News and Sky News, and led to many young and witty remainers to joke that they now support the vote to leave the EU in 2016’s referendum.

As with most policies, there is a degree of ambiguity and over-the-top formality in the EU Commission’s proposal, but campaigners are right to voice concerns about Article 13 affecting memes. In the UK, there’s certain instances where duplicates of copyrighted work such as photos and videos can be monetised – provided the new version is transformative. In other words, creative forms such as reviews and parodies are covered under fair use or fair dealing because they bring new ideas to the table, and thus don’t infringe upon the market of the original work.

Before I elaborate, I should stress and issue a disclaimer that I am not a legal expert or lawyer, and so my knowledge of copyright and fair use comes from my time on YouTube and as a journalism student whose dabbled a little bit in media law.

Upon hearing this news for the first time, I was curious to know how such a proposal – if fully backed and passed within the different organisations within the EU – would be enforced. However, after seeing the term “recognition technologies” within the document, it’s clear that we’re talking about systems similar to YouTube’s Content ID function. Yet, even that has it’s problems…

With any legislation – especially those regarding any form of expression (e.g. free speech laws or copyright laws) – it’s important that it allows for context. On a site like YouTube, for example, video game cutscenes may be flagged for copyright infringement when they may be a part of a play through by a games reviewer. YouTube film critics face issues around copyrighted movie footage which, for a video-sharing site, is essential for illustrating their review. In all of these instances a computer system may struggle to understand the underlying context in which the copyrighted content is placed. Searches for matching content can be easily coded and incorporated into an algorithm – context cannot.

Therefore, I am mainly sceptical of this proposal, but that’s not to say that I don’t see where the EU Commission is coming from. Whilst the possible restriction on memes is ridiculous and nonsensical and falls under transformative fair use, I do believe that more adequate protection needs to be put in place for talented artists who may find companies using their drawings and illustrations online without credit.

Although, this brings me to another issue with this policy. Whilst legislation can be a blanket law to address a rare event or a small instance, group etc., on this occasion, using algorithms to scan whole websites for this one specific issue may actually do more harm than good. We have to protect artists and illustrators who are having their content duplicated without no transformative element, but a dragnet algorithm is not the right way. Instead, much like some sites already have flagging and reporting systems, each platform should have a report button which allows creators to request to have the duplicate taken down.

As much as we should be concerned about what Article 13 means for memes, we should also question what alternative laws there needs to be to protect artists’ work.