A number of celebrities and social media stars are being investigated by the Competition and Markets Authority, which says it has concerns that some influencers are failing to disclose that they are being paid for their endorsements.
In the early days of social media, Instagram and Facebook were seen as ways to connect with those closest to us, and to provide an insight into our private lives. Today however, models and celebrities can make thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of dollars with every photo they post, simply by featuring a product in their image. This nuanced form of targeted marketing deliberately blurs the line between “advertising” and “personal” sharing, and it’s big business. According to the Financial Times, Instagram influencers earned more than $1bn (£770m) in 2017.
Pictured here is Chiara Ferragni, Italian fashion writer, influencer, businesswoman; and the first-ever blogger to be the focus of a Harvard Business School case study. Is this post of hers an advertisement, or is she just sharing the love?
Under American law, companies who work with influencers (defined as “key individuals with significant social media followings”) to promote products, services, or brands must follow certain rules, many of which are set out in Title XVI (Commercial Practices) of the Code of Federal Regulations. In particular, when there exists a connection between the endorser and the seller of the advertised product that might materially affect the weight or credibility of the endorsement, such connection must be fully disclosed. (16 C.F.R. §§ 255.0-255.5).
In practice, this means that when a company pays an individual – either in cash, or through discounts, free travel, or products – the company and influencer should enter a written contract. The contract should oblige the influencer to both “disclose its material connection to the advertiser clearly and conspicuously,” as well as “refrain from making any false or misleading statements about the products and services.”
nearly identical post to Chiara’s above, but Victoria at inthefrow here has included #ad. Is that clear and conspicuous enough?
Here in the United Kingdom, where influencers are paid to promote, review or talk about a product on social media, the law requires that this must be made clear. The use of editorial content that promotes a product –also known as “advertorials” or “native advertising”– must clearly identify that the company has paid for the promotion.
Earlier this month, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) launched an investigation into whether consumers are being misled by celebrities who do not make clear that they have been paid, or otherwise rewarded, to endorse products online. In its press release, the CMA announced that it has already written to a range of celebrities and social media influencers to request information about their posts and the nature of the agreements they have in place with brands. This comes just weeks after Made in Chelsea star Louise Thompson was slapped on the wrist for failing to disclose an Instagram post as a paid-for advertisement for watchmaker Daniel Wellington.
The regulator is also asking consumers to share their experiences, and says it would “particularly benefit from hearing from people who have bought products which were endorsed on social media.”
The investigation is being carried out under Part 8 of the Enterprise Act 2002 in respect of potential breaches of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. If an influencer ignores the CMA’s requests to comply with the law, an enforcement order in court. As for next steps, breaching such an order can lead to an unlimited fine or a jail term of up to two years. However, examples of meaningful penalties are still almost non-existent.
What do you think? Are influencer adverts easy enough to spot, without the hashtags and caveats? Interestingly, a study by Bazaarvoice and Morar Research found that nearly half of the 4,000 UK consumers polled are “fatigued” by repetitive influencer content. The majority also said they felt influencers were publishing content that was “too materialistic” and “misrepresented real life.” Notwithstanding this, the World Federation of Advertisers reported that 65% of multinational brands plan to increase their influencer investment. Perhaps there’s truth in what Chiara herself once quipped: “some loved me, some hated me—but they all followed me.”
You don’t have to be a privacy or media lawyer to have heard of the sex abuse allegations levied against celebrities in the entertainment industry over the last few years. The investigations concerning Sir Cliff Richard, a famous British musician, included a widely-televised raid on his estate in Berkshire by South Yorkshire Police. Nearly four years after the BBC first named and shamed Sir Cliff in what is now considered to have been “sensationalist” journalism, the High Court has determined that his rights of privacy were infringed.
What makes this case so interesting is that it does not focus on defamation —that is, the publication (or voicing) of a statement which adversely affects another person’s reputation. Instead, Sir Cliff won his case on the basis that the BBC’s wrongful disclosure of his private information was an invasion of his privacy.
In Sir Cliff Richard v BBC and South Yorkshire Police, the Court considered if suspects who have not been formally charged by police have a reasonable expectation of privacy in respect of the criminal investigation. How are an individual’s rights to privacy balanced against the freedom of expression enjoyed by media organisations? That the suspect in this case is a celebrity only complicates matters, as it calls into question the importance publishing private details in the name of public interest.
Prosecutors said in 2016 that there was not enough evidence to justify criminal charges against Mr. Richard, one of Britain’s best-known entertainers, with a career spanning some 60 years. However, the BBC stands by their reportage of the allegations, and I suspect the BBC will indeed appeal this decision.
As if written for the stage, the Justice Mann’s 120-page judgement begins with a summary of key characters and the plot as it unfolded…
Daniel Johnson, an investigative journalist for the BBC, received a tip-off from a police insider in June 2014 that Sir Cliff was under investigation for historic sex offences against a child. In a manner some would consider blackmail, Johnson “exploited the opportunity to get confirmation of his story about Sir Cliff, and more details if possible” from the South Yorkshire Police (SYP). In exchange for Johnson not publishing the story immediately, the SYP promised that he would be given advance notice of the search of Sir Cliff’s estate. The raid was eventually conducted in August 2014, with BBC crew waiting at the gates and helicopters hovering overhead to capture the whole ordeal.
In case you’re wondering where the Beeb’s lawyers were, the BBC held a meeting to discuss whether to name Sir Cliff and when to broadcast. In her testimony, Senior Editor Fran Unsworth explained that “the legal risk was diminishing because they had got a lot of confirmation of the facts of the story”. The principal legal concern seems to have been in respect of factual accuracy and defamation, and not privacy – as “the lawyers had not flagged that up to her as a specific risk” (para 111).
The legal framework of Sir Cliff’s privacy claim is enshrined in European Convention on Human Rights, brought into force in the UK by the Human Rights Act 1998.
Article 8 sets out the right to privacy: “Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law […] or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”
Article 10 upholds the BBC’s competing rights of expression: “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society [including those] for the protection of the reputation or rights of others.”
In instances where which both Article 8 and Article 10 are engaged, the Court has to perform a balancing and weighing act to ascertain which predominates. Neither article has prima facie precedence over the other.
Article 8 privacy protections arise only where an individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy. For example, if I have a conversation with my friend in a crowded coffee shop in central London, I cannot reasonably expect our discussion to be protected as truly private.
The 77 year-old singer told the Court that he suffered an “unbelievable amount of hurt and pain” after the BBC broadcast the allegations that he had sexually assaulted a boy in 1985. “It felt like torture, sustained over almost two years. It felt as though everything I had done, everything I had built and worked to achieve, was being torn down, like life itself was coming to an end.”
But one might wonder if, as a celebrity, Sir Cliff cannot claim to have an expectation of privacy. A certain amount of emphasis was given by the BBC to the fact that Sir Cliff was a public figure, and one who had promoted his Christian beliefs. Because Sir Cliff had been so vocal (ie public) about Christian morality, the BBC considered that his alleged sexual crimes against a child qualified as a matter of public interest. To that point, the Court acknowledged that in certain special circumstances, the public’s right to be informed can extend into private aspects of public figures (para 276).
However, Rocknroll v News Group Newspapers  EWHC 24 (Ch) upheld that a public figure is not, by virtue of their fame, necessarily deprived of his or her legitimate expectations of privacy. Axel Springer v Germany 39954/08  ECHR 227 also makes clear that the safeguard afforded by Article 10 to journalists is subject to the proviso that they are acting in good faith and on an accurate factual basis, and that they provide “reliable and precise” information in accordance with the ethics of journalism.
In considering the BBC’s argument that the stories about Sir Cliff had been published in the public interest, the Court disagreed, saying that reporters at the BBC “were far more impressed by the size of the story and that they had the opportunity to scoop their rivals.” (para 280) This echoes the findings in Axel Springer, in that photographs and commentary which expose a person’s private life cannot be considered to have been published in the name of public interest, if they were in fact made public only to “satisfy the curiosity of a particular readership” (Axel Springer, para 48). It is unsurprising in my view that Justice Mann “came to the clear conclusion that Sir Cliff’s privacy rights were not outweighed by the BBC’s rights to freedom of expression” (para 315).
Publicity is the very soul of justice. In the darkness of secrecy, sinister interest and evil in every shape, have full swing. Only in proportion as publicity has place can any of the checks, applicable to judicial injustice, operate. Where there is no publicity there is no justice.
— Jeremy Bentham. legal and social reformer (1748 – 1832)
Will this case have a chilling effect on media freedoms? Writing for The Guardian, Professor of Financial Journalism Jane Martinson argues that “as long as the media reports accurately – making it clear when a suspect is under investigation for a serious crime, rather than arrested or charged – there should be no bar to the public knowing what is going on.” However, in my view this fails to take into consideration the complexity of public perception. In his concluding remarks, Justice Mann cited “the failure of the public to keep the presumption of innocence in mind at all times” as an aggravating factor against the BBC.
Other criticisms focus on the point that this case provides an undeserved blanket of anonymity to criminals, providing a way to keep allegations against possible abusers secret. Whether or not there is a reasonable expectation of privacy in a police investigation is in actuality fact-sensitive question, and is not capable of a universal answer (para. 237). According to Police Guidance on Relationships with the Media, the names or identifying details of suspects of crime should not be released by police to the press or public, unless special circumstances apply — such as threat to life, the prevention or detection of crime, or a matter of public interest.
The inevitable stigma attached to the extremely serious allegations against Sir Cliff made the invasion of privacy even worse. When an individual’s good reputation is tarnished, even wrongfully, it may never be recoverable. This is especially harmful to celebrities, who rely so heavily on public favour. In my view, Sir Cliff Richards v BBC is not a sweeping new precedent that stifles freedom of the press: it simply restates the statutory protections afforded by the Human Rights Act within the context of already-established European and English case law.
Pictured above: The New United States Courthouse in downtown Los Angeles is a 10-story, 633,000-square-foot building that contains 24 courtrooms and 32 judicial chambers. It houses the U.S. District Court of the Central District of California, accommodates the U.S. Marshals Service, and provides trial preparation space for the U.S. Attorney’s Office and Federal Public Defender.
MPRE (Ethics exam, November)
PREDICTION: Basically the same as the professional conduct and regulation codes here in England. I’m not too worried about this, not least because the advice I’ve seen online points to needing only a month or so of moderate study. It’s multiple-choice, over and done in two hours. I just need to pass this and clear the way for the bar exam.
Agency & Partnerships
PREDICTION: Partnerships are the first thing taught in the Business Law course for the English law degree (both on the GDL and the LPC). Partnerships are he building blocks of company law. I anticipate that this subject will have considerable overlap with English company law, and be pretty straight forward for me on that account.
PREDICTION: As with “Agency & Partnerships” noted above, this should be pretty similar to English company law. Plus, having spent six months in a corporate team, I’m not too intimidated.
PREDICTION: This is apparently the most tested-on subject of the bar exam. I’m somewhat apprehensive about this for a few reasons. While the “basics” might be similar to English public and administrative law, I’m not a litigator and procedure isn’t something I deal with on a regular basis. Secondly, civil procedure is very nuanced according to jurisdiction. Although the framework might be similar in England, the American (federal) and Californian (State) rules will be their own creatures.
PREDICTION: Community Property is only a “thing” in nine US states, including California (and my home state of Washington). From what I gather, community property – which is the marital property regime – is basically family law mixed in with trusts and estates. I did fairly well on those topics in law school, but that was nearly five (!) years ago. I think I’ll be okay on this subject generally, but like Civil Procedure the devil will be in the details.
PREDICTION: Red alert! I’ve only recently started to feel comfortable with the absence of a written constitution here in the UK – the idea of rewiring my little legal neurological pathways back to their “American default” gives me a headache! Thankfully I took a handful of constitutional law courses as an undergrad at Washington State University, but that was… ten (10?!) years ago. This will take a lot of work, but at least no special Californian rules apply!
Contracts and Uniform Commercial Code
PREDICTION: As a commercial contracts lawyer, this stuff is my bread and butter here in the UK. I’m not anticipating any real surprises, but will need to get my head around the UCC, which I’ve never looked at before. The other contract basics should be very, very similar in both style and substance to English law.
PREDICTION: As with civil procedure, criminal law is pretty foreign to me in general, and really nuanced according to jurisdiction. To add insult to injury, I only managed to scrape a “pass” out of my criminal law exam in law school back in 2015. Although the foundations between English and American criminal law will be the same (the elements, theory, etc) I’ll really have to put some effort into this subject.
PREDICTION: This was not a key feature at all in law school, in part because of the separation we have between solicitors and barristers here in England. As a solicitor, I didn’t spend much time at all on evidence in law school. This will all be new to me. As a commercial lawyer I’m a bit annoyed that I’ll have to study this, but maybe it will make watching Law & Order re-runs just that more enjoyable…
PREDICTION: I assume that this is simply a reiteration of the topics and codes covered on the MPRE, which will largely be a refresher. Thankfully I will have taken it recently by the time I sit the California Bar (I know other candidates take it two years prior).
PREDICTION: I hated land law (real estate) in law school. I never payed attention in the lectures and usually spaced out in the workshops. But somehow, perhaps because I panicked so much during my revision, I smashed this exam and earned a distinction. Plus, I spent six months in the commercial real estate team immediately after graduation, so I have a pretty good grasp of real estate transactions. However, that having been said, who knows what weird and wonderful things will pop up in respect of Californian law? I expect this will take some getting used to, not least because I’ll have to un-learn English statute as I go along.
PREDICTION: Legal remedies are a key aspect of contractual commercial law, so I’ve got that pretty much in the bag – provided US and English law aren’t too dissimilar. Equitable remedies are an English invention and a lot of emphasis is put on this in law school, but I’ve not saved any of my notes. I anticipate needing to spend a good amount of time on this subject, just to ensure I have all of my bases covered. If you mess up in your initial analysis, the entire IRAC structure falls apart. Also, I have no idea what “Ks” are in this context – do they mean questions? Claims?
PREDICTION: I really enjoyed my tort law module in law school. Unfortunately, stress and a tube delay resulted in me having a minor meltdown the morning of my exam (sorry Joe, sorry Ivana!) and I barely passed. The nice thing about tort law (compensation for harm) is that it overlaps beautifully with contract law, which is my specialism. I’d jump for joy if there was a specific question on privacy! If it’s an essay, I’ll even slip in a reference to the new California Consumer Privacy Act or the GDPR. I will. just watch me!
PREDICTION: I did well with trusts in law school, but I have a sneaking suspicion that California-specific rules will be somewhat difficult. I just have a feeling! Thankfully, this doesn’t appear to be something that is tested on for the essays, but I don’t know how much I’d necessarily trust my intel. In any event, trusts – together will community property and wills – will probably soak up a fair amount of my time.
PREDICTION: All I remember about my course on wills was drawing family trees and deciding that private client and probate was definitely not an area of law I was interested in, career-wise. Now that I’m actually named as executrix of my parent’s estate, I suppose this is something that I have a vested interest in (literally…hah hah). As with trusts, I expect Californian rules to throw me for a loop on this one. I’ll probably come up with some pretty elaborate plots and fantasy scenarios while studying…
I’ve decided to sit the California bar next year! While kelseyfarish.com will still largely be devoted to legal stories I find interesting, I thought it might be a good idea to keep a written record of my experiences, thoughts, predictions, and study strategy: these posts will be marked by the “California Bar Exam” category tag.
Why become dual-qualified? And why California? Although I’ve lived in London for nearly seven years and am licensed to practice law in England, I’m still an American citizen. I earned my Bachelors’ degree in the USA, and after studying law and politics fully intended to go to law school in the States. My original plans to spend one year in London to do a Masters degree changed when I met my now-husband!
It consider it something special to be qualified to practice law in your “home” jurisdiction. The American Constitution is very much a part of my professional and personal DNA: as I’ve become more and more involved in English and European law (especially in matters concerning media, expression, and privacy) the more interested I am in American jurisprudence.
Maybe it’s the academic in me, but I’m genuinely passionate and curious about legal theory and the practice of law. I also think being dual-qualified will make me a better lawyer, not least because the majority of my clients have some sort of international aspects which routinely touch on US law.
Currently, only a few states allow foreign-qualified lawyers to bypass American law school and sit the bar as “attorney applicants” – New York and California are two of the most popular. For boring administrative reasons* I’m not eligible to sit the bar in New York without doing an LL.M. in the States. California on the other hand only cares about the fact that I’m currently a lawyer in good standing in my home jurisdiction. So California it is!
Even if I was eligible to sit the NY bar, I do honestly think that I’d prefer to do it in California. My practice is focused on media, internet companies, telecoms, creative content, defamation, publicity, and privacy: so many interesting cases on those matters come out of California. Furthermore, I come across contracts subject to Californian law on a weekly basis. It would be great to be able to advise on those contracts, and not need to defer to US counsel! Plus, as a girl originally from the West Coast of the US, I’ve always believed known West Coast, Best Coast.
There are three key components of the exam process:
1. The Multi-state Professional Responsibility Exam, or “ethics exam” (MRPE). This exam can be taken in any one of 300 test centers around the USA, and is offered three times each year. I’m taking the exam in November, in New York City. My test results will be “uploaded” to California.
In July 2019, I’ll be off to Los Angeles to sit the California Bar Exam, which occurs over a two-day period:
2. The California Bar Exam. Day 1 consists of five separate one-hour essays on a variety of legal topics, and one 90-minute practice test in which candidates are expected to work through a series of documents and produce some sort of memorandum or client letter. I’m still trying to figure out which points of California law specifically will be testable.
3. The Multi-State Bar Exam. Day 2 is the MBE, which consists of 200 multiple-choice questions on seven subjects, based upon principles of common law and Article 2 of the Uniform Commercial Code (covering sales of goods). The questions are not broken down into sections and the seven topics are distributed more or less evenly throughout the exam. Candidates receive three hours during the morning session to complete the first 100 questions, and another three hours during the afternoon session to complete the second 100 questions.
The topics covered are:
• Business Associations
• Civil Procedure – topic on both Day 1 and Day 2
• Community Property
• Constitutional Law – topic on both Day 1 and Day 2
• Contracts – topic on both Day 1 and Day 2
• Criminal Law and Procedure – topic on both Day 1 and Day 2
• Evidence – topic on both Day 1 and Day 2
• Professional Responsibility
• Real Property – topic on both Day 1 and Day 2
• Torts – topic on both Day 1 and Day 2
• Wills and Succession
*Why not New York? According to Section 520.6 of the Rules of the Court of Appeals for the Admission of Attorneys and Counselors at Law, foreign lawyers must satisfy certain requirements to be admitted to the New York bar. In addition to passing the bar exam itself, applicants must have a “qualifying degree” that satisfies the educational requirements to practice law in a foreign country.
The normal route in England for aspiring lawyers is to do an undergraduate degree in law: the LL.B. They then do a year of law school (LPC) and two years of clerking (the training contract).
For students who don’t do the LL.B (for example. if they do history or chemistry and later decide to go into law) they can do a one-year “conversion” course known as the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) before doing the LPC. This was the route I chose, as – like many others – I did not do an undergraduate degree in law.
Unfortunately, despite being a qualified solicitor in England, the New York State Bar does not recognise the GDL as being a full “qualifying degree.” I can “cure” this by completing a 2-year LL.M. (a Masters’ degree in law) in the USA, but… nah. That’s not happening.
著作權 or Zhùzuòquán means “copyright” in Mandarin Chinese. Earlier this week, Chinese authorities kicked-off a campaign against online copyright infringement. Is this crackdown a response to increased pressure from foreign investors —and the Trump administration— for China to combat widespread piracy and counterfeiting?
The latest Jianwang Campaign Against Online Copyright Infringement was jointly launched by several government agencies including the National Copyright Administration of China, the Cyberspace Administration, and the Ministry of Public Security. It will target key areas for intellectual property rights (IPRs) including unauthorised republication of news and plagiarism on social media, broadcasting copyrighted content on video sharing apps, and setting up overseas servers to get around territorial restrictions. The campaign, which will last for at least four months, will also push internet service providers to enhance internal supervision systems.
Similar to the crackdown last September, the campaign is seen by many as an attempt to alleviate major concerns among foreign investors, including those in the United States. China’s lack of strong IPRs protection measures “frequently draw complaints from foreign investors and have been a long-standing focus of attention at annual talks with the US and Europe.”
The issue hit headlines again last autumn, when the Office of the United States Trade Representative led an official seven-month investigation into China’s intellectual property theft, under section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974. Bolstered by the USTR’s findings that “Chinese theft of American IP currently costs between $225 billion and $600 billion annually”, the Trump Administration imposed retaliatory tariffs on Chinese products in early July.
Considering 200 years of history: is “Chinese culture” to blame for copyright infringement?
In 2012, an article on Forbes explained that “IP protection will always be an uphill struggle in China and for companies doing business there,” as individual rights –including IPRs– may be at odds with traditional Chinese society. What support does that argument have?
Firstly, it’s important to note that IP is not an indigenous concept in China. Historically speaking, the lack of a strong IP regime can be traced to the early roots of China’s economic system, which emphasised agriculture and generally neglected large-scale commerce. Before the Opium War (1839-1842), foreign powers were unconcerned with the lack of IP protection in China primarily because there was little foreign investment there to protect in the first instance. Furthermore, the main European exports to China at the time were unbranded bulk commodities, and not technological innovations or creative works such as software, film, and music.
During the Chinese Revolution, Mao Zedong’s Communist Party abolished all legal systems in 1949. Throughout the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, China lacked any semblance of a functioning legal system. As per Communist political ideology, “Law” in China during this time was guided by general principles and shifting policies, rather than detailed and constant rules.
When chairman Deng Xiaoping adopted an open-door economic policy in the late 1970s, China’s trading partners were no longer restricted to the USSR and Soviet satellites, but instead now included Western countries. Several years later, the Communist party officially pronounced that the Cultural Revolution had been a grave error, and began to shift its economic and social reforms. To support its burgeoning and rapid economic development, China accordingly began to embrace a formal IPR strategy. When China joined the World Trade Organisation in 2001, it became bound by the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).
Enhancing the protection of intellectual property rights is a matter of overall strategic significance, and it is vital for the development of the socialist market economy.
—Li Keqiang, Premier of the People’s Republic of China
The Wall Street Journal further explains that, incentivised by the influx of foreign technology and media companies wishing to invest in China, IPR protection in the country has been rising steadily for the last decade. In 2006, there were approximately 6,000 copyright lawsuits: in 2016, that number had multiplied nearly 15 times over to 87,000 cases.
If Chinese IP law is increasingly comparable to European and American standards, why then does China continue to attract disapproval?
Although the rate of unlicensed or “pirated” software in China is nearly 70 per cent, the piracy rates in Indonesia, Pakistan, Vietnam, Albania, Belarus, Ukraine, Bolivia, Algeria, Botswana, Zimbabwe and many others is much higher. However, because Chinese economy is behemoth, and uses an incredible amount of software, the value of such pirated software is over $6.5 billion.
Secondly, although true that Chinese IPR enforcement is catching up to U.S. and European standards, considerable weakness remains in the high levels of bureaucracy. For example, court decisions might apply on a provincial level rather than nationally, and judges often have different interpretations of the laws.
Of China’s 1.5 billion residents, nearly 600 million live in rural communities. While central authorities may establish the laws and regulations, it is the local authorities tasked to implement those laws and regulations. It is therefore important to note that local protectionism probably constitutes the largest obstacle to cracking down on piracy in China.
Finally, from a sociological perspective, it could be argued that English-language media promotes an inaccurate portrayal of IP piracy as somehow rooted in Chinese culture and Otherness. To be fair, European and American copyright law is also plagued with intense debate and woeful inadequacies surrounding the evolution of online technologies.
IP is a complex area of law, and for a variety of reasons copyright is perhaps one of the most difficult areas to legislate. China still has a long way to come in respect of is IPR regime, a sentiment acknowledged by Beijing. However, the danger of perpetuating snippets and sound bites without adequate context is non-trivial. IPR policy affects United States foreign policy, and incorrect understanding the problem can lead to disruptions in international relations, or even trade wars.
France’s broadcasting regulator recently issued a warning to the French division of Russian television channel RT for falsifying facts in a programme about the use of chemical weapons in Syria. The following day, the Russian state media regulator accused French television channel France 24 of violating Russian media laws. As relations between western countries and Moscow deteriorate, France nears passing “Fake News” regulation to hit back at RT, while France 24 risks having its operating licenses revoked in Russia.
RT France’s broadcast on Syria
At least 40 people died earlier this year from exposure to chlorine and sarin gas in the Syrian town of Douma. The attack provoked global outrage and Western governments blamed the attack on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a Russian ally. Within days, the United States, Britain, and France led retaliatory missile strikes against Assad’s suspected chemical weapons sites.
Several days later, RT France aired a segment entitled “Simulated Attacks” during its evening news programme, which dismissed the chemical weapons attacks as staged. Furthermore, RT France dubbed over the voices of Syrian civilians with words they had not said. The portrayal of the Syrian attack in such a manner may be a violation of its contractual, and regulatory obligations under French law.
A Muscovite in Paris
Bolstered by the popularity of its French language website and YouTube channel, RT took the decision to open a Paris bureau after the Élysée Palace refused to provide RT reporters with press credentials to cover presidential news conferences. Previously, the state-backed broadcaster had been criticized by French President Emmanuel Macron as “behaving like deceitful propaganda” which “produced infamous counter-truths about him.” As a presidential candidate, Macron was targeted by a campaign of fake news and hacking attempts from Russia, and he is reported to have taken the affront personally.
I have decided that we are going to evolve our legal system to protect our democracy from fake news. The freedom of the press is not a special freedom, it is the highest expression of freedom. If we want to protect liberal democracies, we have to be strong and have clear rules.
— Emmanuel Macron
Nevertheless, when speaking about the channel prior to its launch, RT France’s president Xenia Fedorova commented: “France is a country with a storied legacy of respect for the freedom of expression and embrace of new ideas. RT France will enable the audiences to explore this diversity and hear the voices rarely found in the mainstream media.”
Conseil supérieur de l’audiovisuel (Audiovisual Council, or CSA) has authority under the French Freedom of Communication Act or “Léotard Act” (loi n° 86-1067) to regulate television programming in France. RT only recently entered the French market in January 2018, and like all broadcasters in the country, operates under a contract with the CSA. In its official notice, CSA stated that the Russian outlet violated its obligations under the contract, namely:
article 2-3-1 —journalists, presenters, hosts or programme directors will ensure that they observe an honest presentation of questions relating to controversies and disputed issues
article 2-3-6 —The publisher will demonstrate precision in the presentation and treatment of news. It will ensure the balance between the context in which images were taken and the subject that they show [and] cannot distort the initial meaning of the images or words collected, nor mislead the viewer.
CSA went on to claim RT France displayed “failures of honesty, rigor of information, and diversity of points of view.” Furthermore, “there was a marked imbalance in the analysis, which, on a topic as sensitive as this, did not lay out the different points of view.”
Although RT France acknowledged a mistake had been made in the French translation of comments from a Syrian witness, it claimed that this was a “purely technical error” which had been corrected. Rebutting CSA’s complaint, Xenia Fedorova stated, “RT France covers all subjects, including the Syrian conflict, in a totally balanced manner, by giving all sides a chance to comment.”
A Parisien in Moscow
France 24 broadcasts in English on Russian satellite packages, and has about 1,348,000 weekly viewers. In a statement, Russia’s Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media —commonly known as Roskomnadzor—identified a violation of media law by France 24 in Russia.
A Russian media source reports that “during an analysis of the licensing agreements in watchdog Roskomnadzor’s possession, it has been established that the editorial activity of France 24 is under the control of a foreign legal entity.”
This would violate Article 19.1 of the Russian Mass Media Law, which was amended in 2016 to restrict foreign ownership of media companies. The law bans foreigners from holding more than a 20 per cent stake in Russian media outlets, effectively forcing them to be controlled by Russian legal entities.
RT’s chief editor Margarita Simonyan said the Roszkomnadzor move was a retaliatory action for CSA’s warning. Speaking to state news agency RIA Novosti, Simonyan explained, “Russia is a big country. Unlike many, we can afford ourselves the luxury of tit-for-tat measures.”
RT is widely acknowledged as the Russian government’s main weapon in an intensifying information war with the West. In respect of media ownership, it is no secret that the Kremlin uses direct ownership to influence publications and the airwaves. Each Russian TV channel is fully or partially owned by the state except for one, NTV. Even so, NTV is owned by Gazprom, the natural gas giant in which the government has a controlling stake.
Because of the constrained political environment, Russian media are unable to resist the pressure from the state and succumbed to the well-known propaganda and conformism pattern according to which they’ve been operating in the Soviet times. The period of the relative freedom of press ended with Vladimir Putin ascension to power, which was too short for the Russian media to become a strong democratic institution.
In the wake of alleged Russian interference with American elections and the Brexit referendum, lawmakers now face the challenge of regulating a defiant type of expression. Is this propaganda masquerading as journalism, which should be curtailed or even censored ? Or is RT simply a voice from a different perspective? Should viewers be trusted to make the best decision as the information wars carry on?
In France at least, the road to regulation seems to be preferred. After fierce debate, the French Parliament approved draft legislation to allow courts to determine whether articles published within three months of elections are credible, or should be taken down.
Between 2011 and 2014, the United States Postal Service (USPS) used an image of the Statue of Liberty for its Forever Stamp series (a type of First Class postage stamp). Unfortunately for the USPS, the image they chose was not actually of the famous statue that towers over New York Harbor designed by French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi in 1886. Instead, the image they chose was actually Robert S. Davidson’s replica Statue of Liberty which looks over the New York-New York Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. Davidson sued for – and won – nearly $3.5 (£2.6) million in royalties, plus interest.
As reported by Artsy, an eagle eyed stamp collector identified the mix-up in 2011. The USPS was made aware of the goof in 2013, but went on to print another 1.13 billion stamps with the replica’s image. For context, the judgement cited that the USPS made some $70 million in revenue resulting from sales of this Lady Liberty stamp alone.
The Post Office purchased the photo used on the stamp from the image service Getty for $1,500 (£1,140). However, the license only covered the rights to Getty’s photograph of the statue — and not the statue itself. The USPS neglected to seek permission from Davidson, likely because they simply assumed what it was using was in the public domain.
In its defense, the USPS asserted that the statue is a replica and accordingly, contains no truly original work. If true, this would render Davidson’s copyright claim invalid, and the government would owe nothing for its use of the replica statue’s image.
Davidson was therefore tasked with proving that his copyright in the statue was valid, which under US law requires only a showing of “some minimal degree of creativity” and that it was his own “independent creation” of those original elements.
By way of reminder, the focus is on the expression of an original idea and not the idea itself (Oracle Am., Inc. v. Google Inc., 2014). As such, Davidson’s statue did not need to be wholly original, but rather a “new and original expression” of some previous work or idea – namely, the famous Bartholdi statue.
Davidson argued in his lawsuit that he wasn’t trying to create a replica of the original, but rather to craft a fresher, more feminine version. As was later quoted in the ruling, he “envisioned his mother-in-law as inspiration … and viewed her picture every night during the construction of the face of the statue.”
The Court examined photographs and was satisfied that Davidson “succeeded in making the statue his own creation, particularly the face. A comparison of the two faces unmistakably shows that they are different.” Ultimately, the Court agreed that Davidson’s statue “evokes a softer and more feminine appeal. The eyes are different, the jaw line is less massive and the whole face is more rounded. “
The USPS’s defense that the stamp fell under the fair use exemption was rejected by the Court. As the USPS printed “billions of copies and selling them to the public as part of a business enterprise … so overwhelmingly favors a finding of infringement that no fair use can be found.”
In case you’re wondering how the USPS – which is a US government agency – can be successfully sued for copyright infringement, 28 U.S.C. § 1498(b) waives sovereign immunity for claims of copyright infringement against the federal government “for the recovery of his reasonable and entire compensation as damages for such infringement.”
This is the blog of the Media Governance & Industries Lab [http://mediagovernance.univie.ac.at], anchored in the Department of Communications of the University of Vienna, and headed by Prof. Katharine Sarikakis. The blog is curated by A.A.Mills. Follow them and the Lab on Twitter: @grrlsrock @AAMills @MediaGovLab. The Jean Monnet blog post series are curated by Wagner Piasssaroli Mantovaneli. [Any views expressed in blog entries here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of univiennamedialab]