When the EU Copyright Directive protests were in full swing earlier this year, many people warned that upload filters would “kill memes.”
We weren’t particularly fond of this oversimplification, but the problems with upload filters are obvious, with or without the new EU directive.
In fact, even without automated filters copyright enforcement efforts can be quite problematic. Today we present a rather unusual example, where one of the “memes” we published in the past, was effectively taken down by Facebook.
To put things in a proper context, we take you back to 2014. At the time we reported that photographer Christoffer Boffoli had filed a lawsuit against the popular image sharing site Imgur, which allegedly ignored his takedown requests.
Boffoli hoped to protect his copyrights, but this effort soon backfired. A few weeks after he filed the complaint someone uploaded an archive of 20,754 of his photos to The Pirate Bay, specifically mentioning the lawsuit against Imgur. The torrent in question remains online today.
In recent years we haven’t heard much from the photographer, until this week, when someone alerted us to a rather unusual issue. The person in question, who prefers not to be named, had one of his Facebook posts removed over alleged copyright infringement.
The post in question was a link to our news article covering the Pirate Bay ‘issue.’ At the time, this was by default shared with a portrait of Boffoli that someone turned into a meme, as can be seen below (meme text cropped).
The Facebook notice mentions that the content in question was “disabled” due to a third-party copyright complaint. While it didn’t specify what the infringing content was, our article was listed as the “source,” and the link and the associated image were indeed removed.
Since Boffoli doesn’t own any copyrights to our work, and since we didn’t link to the Pirate Bay archive, we assume that the takedown notice is targeted at the meme image, which includes the photographer’s portrait. Whether it’s justified is another question though.
Memes are generally seen as fair use. As such, people can share them without repercussions. A photographer may contend this, and fight it out in court, but in this case that could prove difficult.
When looking into the matter, we noticed that the original portrait has been hosted by Wikipedia for more than 15 years. This shows that the photo is credited to Boffoli himself, and shared with a public domain ‘license’, allowing anyone to use it freely.
This means that creating a meme out of it is certainly not a problem. But perhaps there was another reason for the takedown?
Since Facebook doesn’t share any further details, and our own original Facebook posting is still up, we can’t be 100% sure what the alleged infringement is. However, looking through Facebook’s archive we see that another user had the meme image removed as well (TF link remains online here), suggesting that this is indeed the problem.
So there we have it. Facebook effectively
‘killed’ removed a meme. In at least once instance, it removed a link to a perfectly legitimate news article, based on a takedown request that doesn’t seem to hold water. The meme isn’t quite dead yet though, it’s on the Internet after all.