In a landmark decision, The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the copyright cannot stand in the way of the right to free speech.
This means that the use of copyrighted material for the purposes of dissemination or political speech is not necessarily an offence, and courts will have to prove that a conviction is “necessary in a democratic society”
The decision of the court has been welcomed as a sensible balance between protecting copyrighted work and freedom of expression. Rick Falkvinge, founder of the Pirate Party, tells The Telegraph: “In essence, the court is saying that political speech and political expression can trump the copyright monopoly – for instance, if you were seeding a documentary on human rights abuses with the intent of bringing about political change, that action will very likely be legal after this verdict, which it wasn’t before.”
John Killock of the Open Rights Group in London said “These are entirely sensible observations from the court. Copyright can conflict with the right to free expression and the desire to disseminate information. This is good news for civil liberties but equally the principle of copyright is upheld. The court makes it clear that copyright isn’t an automatic right to restrict people’s free speech.”
The court’s decision came after hearing an appeal by three French photographers who were convicted in France for copyright infringement when pictures taken by photographers Olivier Claisse, Robert Ashby Donald and Marcio Madeira Moraeso at a fashion show were published on a website that charged others to use them. French fashion houses have retained control of images taken at their shows since 1968. The court decided that the fashion house was a commercial organisation and didn’t have an important democratic function that needed to be protected.