There’s a common refrain in US politics. A politician uses a popular band’s music as part of their campaign, musicians denounce the politician or even threaten to sue, the politician doesn’t really do much but switches to a different beat for the next rally.
The moves are mostly symbolic ‒ artists don’t want to be seen as endorsing political hacks. But copyright law is murky, so actual lawsuits are relatively rare and unsuccessful.
Yet if creators cannot protect their work in the ultra-litigious world of US music, what chance do media companies ‒ whose materials are constantly plagiarised ‒ stand against political and corporate giants in Ukraine?
For one local media on the frontlines of Ukraine’s war with Russia in the Donbas, the answer turned out to be: not as bad as you would think.
6262.com.ua is the city media in Slovyansk, a Ukrainain city located not far from the Donbas battle theater. Slovyansk was the epicenter of fighting during the intense battles of April 2014 and was finally retaken by Ukrainian forces three months later following a heavy siege and a particularly odious occupation regime.
Once finally back under Ukrainian control, a new team set up 6262.com.ua (the numbers are basically the “area code”), “because the city needed a media [outlet],” says Valerii Garmash, company’s founder and CEO.
6262 has recently been involved in a feud with local mayoral candidate Pavlo Prydvorov who used their footage in his video campaign advertisement ‒ violating copyright, as well as YouTube’s and Facebook’s terms of service.
Instead of ignoring the problem, as many publications would have done (Ukraine is famed for its ineffective intellectual property rules and has been an international piracy hub of sorts), 6262’s team launched a new video series called “Nakhiba” (a Ukrainian slang neologism for “Why”), with the first video devoted to the copyright infringement case with Prydvorov.
At first 6262 tried to solve this issue directly with the politican. But when Garmash wrote to the candidate’s lawyer, he received a somewhat dubious answer: “All footage is filmed by our team. If the footage was published on a Youtube channel, it doesn’t mean the publisher is the author. This video can be filmed by many people”. (The Fix was unable to reach Prydvorov’s office for comment).
6262 team then published a video on their YouTube channel comparing the original frames of their video with the candidate’s video of his election appeal. For them, it was not just a matter of principle, but also important to the local elections ‒ set to be held on October 25.
In the video published by 6262 Garmash claimed: “He stole and said it was mine. If the candidate is using someone else’s property at the beginning of his career, what will come when he becomes a mayor?”.
6262 sent the letter to Facebook and YouTube with the proof of the footage ownership. Facebook soon deleted the video of the politician, YouTube still hasn’t answered.
This is a particularly bold move for Ukraine. Irking powerful local politicians is a dangerous game in the country where violence and even murders of journalists still happen with unfortunate regularity.
Perhaps equally important is the fact that elections are a prime earning time for media, many of which feature political ads and paid-for articles promoting politicians.
According to a recent study by the Institute of Mass Information, only 11 of the 50 most visited information sites didn’t contain hidden advertisements or dzynsa as it is called in Ukraine. Moreover, more than half of those paid-for materials promoted the party “Opposition Platform — For Life,” whose member is Prydvorov.
From its very creation 6262 has avoided this game, as Garmash explains this would only deliver short-term results. “You might get some income, but then people lose trust and what do you do between elections?”, he asked rhetorically, adding that “our publication does not advertise any political party. But no one ever tried to advertise themselves using our resources.”
Prydvorov, who is part of the pro-Russian “Opposition Platform” that holds sway in much of the region, has gone all out with billboards, outdoors events and social media videos.
Garmash told The Fix that Pavlo Prydvorov’s team tried to avoid this topic and is pretending that nothing happened. But with the Facebook video gone, and local citizens taking notice ‒ according to Research & Branding Group, Facebook is the social media of choice for 58% of Ukrainians ‒ this episode has no doubt stung.
Looking forward, 6262 doesn’t plan to file a lawsuit. They said it was not their goal, the main idea of their video was to show that intellectual property can be defended no matter who you are dealing with ‒ as long as you get creative and stand your ground. “We need to teach violators to follow the rules,” Garmash summed up.