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A War Over Meme Ownership In India Forces Us To Understand Meaning Of Information Control

Updated on 23 September, 2017 at 4:09 pm By

A storm is blowing in this part of the Internet world over a certain meme which ScoopWhoop claimed as its own.

 

On the left is the meme posted by ScoopWhoop. On the right is the one posted by a Facebook page.
OfficeChai


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Of course you’d like to know how it all started! There is no storm unless there is a clash between the clouds and air, right? It was exactly a clash which triggered this storm.

ScoopWhoop posted a meme which was also posted by a Facebook page called ‘Andi Mandi Memes’ on the Internet. According to a Office Chai, ScoopWhoop claimed copyright over the meme. The request appears to have been turned down by the Facebook page. Office Chai reports that ScoopWhoop allegedly got the page blocked on Facebook.

 

A screenshot of the message which the Facebook page allegedly received from ScoopWhoop. OfficeChai

The incident happened on July 8. Following this, the Reddit community started protesting. A Reddit user condemned the company’s move in very strong words.

According to Office Chai, Internet users were angry with this “bullying” tactics. One user even claimed that the meme in question was originally created by him.

 

As a result, people on the Internet started giving one-star rating to ScoopWhoop’s app leading to a massive fall in its total ratings.

 

And many other pages created their own memes as a mark of protest.

 

The actual problem becomes apparent as we attempt to answer this question: Can anyone claim the right to any Tom, Dick or Harry thing on the Internet?


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Yes, it is a question that cannot be answered in a straight “yes” or “no”. Yet the answer should contain the core message: Information is free for all to use.

Let us look at the need for a “free for all” part with some facts.

Ever heard of 4Chan? It is a community which is credited with having created almost all of the memes available on the Internet today. And the members of the community were just ordinary Internet users. So basically, Internet users created the memes that have been entertaining us for all these years!

 

The Impossibru Man is one of the most famous memes created by users of 4chan.

 

4chan users are credited with the creation of Courage Wolf meme.

And then there is a very interesting story about how a man called Cliff Roth created the first ever meme in a time when there was no Internet.

So the fact is that memes were born out of the minds of ordinary Internet users. If the original creators of any of those templates were so possessive about their “creation”, the memes would not have been as popular as they are. How can then any media house claim right over memes or gifs?

The fact is that no one has any right to stake claim on basic information or certain creations such as meme or gif that can be done by even a 5th standard dropout. The same logic extends to the world of news.

The word ‘exclusive’ should not be used by anyone unless certain conditions pertaining to exclusivity are met. There are instances where media houses have aired videos shot by people trapped in the middle of riots as exclusives. Is that right? Of course not! Suppose a video is available on the Internet and a media house uses it to report first, does that give the media house the right to call the report “an exclusive”?

If those stories, whether videos or in print, are republished by other smaller media organizations with proper credits, the latter might still be threatened with lawsuits by the original publisher. The media houses not only claim complete ownership over the text but also any photographs accompanying such content. They want the smaller media houses to pay for the rights to reproduce the content. And how many of the increasing numbers of media organizations are capable of paying?

 

An ad by India Today mocking the “exclusive” tag that some channels use for any kind of news. AFAQS

Does this not block the right to know and thereby the story itself? It does! Imagine if the reporter of a media house does a ‘special report’ on the family of a riot victim. It automatically becomes an exclusive for the media house. Now if smaller media houses are prevented from reproducing the same story (in spite of proper credits), how can then the world know about the plight of the family which lost someone to some senseless violence? Will it not be an injustice, a travesty of human emotions?

The world is expanding, and the Internet has made it possible to let anyone become anything from a reporter on the ground to an editor in a comfy AC chamber. The Internet is constantly evolving with unique things coming up every few hours. Anyone can be a designer, a coder, or an entrepreneur. Anyone can have any kind of idea, and even ideas cannot become exclusive to people.

 

Yes, Barack Obama said this. Doesn’t matter if his own government was involved in spying. And yet HE said this.

Let us not get into the law because the law sees everything in black & white. And there are many things as per law which prevent the sharing of information.

Yes, copyright laws do exist but they are for truly remarkable things such as books or artwork (painting, sculpture, etc.) or musical compositions. These works cannot be created just like that; they take a lot of effort by the creator and are done over a period of time – sometimes years. Yes, memes and gifs, too, are creative outputs but the creativity involved in making a gif or meme and the words used to convey the message should not be copyrighted. The reason is that memes and gifs themselves use other content as background. It is like picking up a scene from a movie, turning its context into something else, and then claiming it as an exclusive creation. How weird does that sound!



It is in this light that the recent meme war should be seen. Creating a meme may not require even minutes. There are literally thousands of online tools with which anyone can create a meme. Many of those templates were created by God knows who. So when media houses start claiming the rights on templates and, maybe, even memes, it sends across a very autocratic message to the ordinary folks on the Internet.

 

Just type “create a meme” and you get innumerable sites for help.

We think that all of this “exclusive”, “copyright” thing in cases of news reports and general content is a legacy of the time when the source of information was solely the print and TV media. What applied to those worlds (and still do) may not apply to the world of the Internet because of a gamut of reasons including vastness, depth, and audience type. We are consuming our information from across the Internet. If tomorrow someone starts claiming copyright over their own words that they write on social media platforms, there will be a complete stop to information itself. And that would mean a complete stop on the progress of civilization.

Media should control information dissemination alone. The war should be over who can spread an information to what extent, not the information itself.

***

Update:

Some of our readers asked what we mean by dissemination. Others requested us to elaborate on that last line claiming that there should be no “control” of any kind on anything.

Dissemination, as is commonly understood, is the act of spreading something widely such as spreading of seeds in a farm. So when we use the word in the context of the media, it means the spread of information widely. (Note the emphasis on widely.) Now place the farmer, his farm and his seeds in the context of the media. The farmer becomes the media house, the farm (or farms) becomes the audience, and the seeds become the inputs (news, content and other information). A farmer has the right to spread the seeds equally or in a proportion he deems fit across the farm/s. Similarly, every media house has the right to distribute the information to their respective sets of audiences in whichever manner they like.

 

Many farmers have the same kind of seeds because they grow the same kind of crop. What if one farmer starts preventing others from distributing the seeds. There will be no produce and the entire economic ecosystem will be impacted!

The same can be illustrated with an example from Ben-Hur, the book written by Lew Wallace. The 1959 version of the film has a chariot race scene adapted from the book. That race is one of the most significant moments of both the book and the film because in it the hero, Judah Ben-Hur, races against his rival Messala for a very important reason – seek vengeance for the imprisonment (later expulsion) of his mother and sister.

In that race, Messala attempts to prevent Ben-Hur from winning by using a Greek chariot with blades to destroy other chariots. Messala also whips Ben-Hur in order to prevent the latter from winning. However, Ben-Hur prevails and wins the race.

 

Messala whips Ben-Hur to prevent the latter from winning. YouTube

It should be noted here that Messala is a Roman and Ben-Hur is a Jew. The story is set in a time when Romans used to persecute Jews and Christians. The Romans were powerful; the Jews were weak.

The bottomline is that if Messala had chosen to focus on winning the race and not destroy the chariots of others, he would have probably won because he had a better chariot and better horses. The same applies to the world of media. Anyone with a sound distribution strategy and better information will be lauded. No one has to destroy the chariot of another to win a race or prevent another farmer from planting similar seeds on their farm. It has to be a fair game because horses or seeds are, in their core form, the same everywhere. How you treat your horse or spread your seed will decide where you stand in the race or in the produce.

It is also strange that the media (at least those in the news business) has a lot to talk about but doesn’t. How many of them covered the Chennai floods when it started? How many of them covered the Assam floods, or the riots in West Bengal till things got almost over? The media’s treatment of the Northeast is an example of how centralized the media is in India. How will then the people of India know India?

 

Floods ravaged Chennai for days but the coverage started only after social media nudged big media houses from their slumber. CNN

The job of the media is to gather information from every nook and corner, and spread it far and wide. There is no need to prevent someone else from using the information and spread the same in their own way.

It is both a business and a mission. The business part has to be there because the mission cannot go ahead without revenue. But the mission is more important because it is the mission to serve news which forms the foundation of all media houses. So focus on the mission is more important than business.


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And you’d be surprised to know that we discovered another website copying the entire content above the update without giving us credit. But we don’t mind because the message that we are trying to put across for the sake of free information must reach every corner. We spread our seed on our farm. Let those who are using the same seed on their farm do so. The produce will be much higher and all will be benefitted.

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