Acromax Media — Albanian Government’s Tool for Online Political Censorship

Acromax Media — Albanian Government’s Tool for Online Political Censorship

A number of video posts, critical of the government and the Municipality of Tirana, have been recently removed from Facebook and other social networks, as part of a systematic and well-planned campaign.

The perpetrator of these actions is Acromax Media GmbH, a German-based, Albanian-owned company that claims to operate the “digital rights management” for Albanian media.

The company has secured contracts for almost every major digital broadcaster in the country, including the media groups Klan, Top Channel, News 24, Vision+, etc. Operating seemingly on their behalf, it prohibits posts on Facebook and Google of videos which include content, however short, taken from their broadcasts.

Yet the posts removed are those critical of Edi Rama and Erion Veliaj- positive posts are not signaled as copyright violations by Acromax.

At the request of Acromax, hundreds of video posts been removed from Facebook, pages have been deleted, others have been temporarily blocked, and personal profiles have also been removed.

It is a campaign that is slowly extinguishing every critical Facebook page against Rama and Veliaj and making impossible any kind of critical posting containing videos of their public appearances and statements. It is an abuse of copyright principles to enable political censorship by violating the fundamental right of free speech. The government seems to be orchestrating the campaign, while using Acromax as a censorship instrument.

What is happening?

Many individual sites or profiles, mainly on Facebook, utilizing technological advancement use short video clips or montages to raise awareness, criticize political statements, point out scandals, record unkept promises, etc. The video clips were taken from politicians’ public appearances made during public, free-to-air, broadcasts. The video clips have never been used for monetization purposes.

For example, one of the oft-repeated criticisms is directed towards Mayor Veliaj and his unkept promised related to constructions in Tirana. A number of sites have produced videos containing Veliaj’s statements during the 2015 campaign, which promised to block construction in Tirana’s central areas. These promises are then contrasted with the current situation on the ground.

In recent months, most of these videos have been attacked by Acromax Media, which considers Veliaj’s statement as “intellectual property” of the broadcasters (mainly Klan, Top Channel and Vision Plus). As a result, Facebook has removed the videos containing Veliaj’s 2015 promises. Veliaj’s promises, on a show such as Opinion, are provided “intellectual property” legal protection similar to music or film, and their use is not allowed.

Acromax has targeted every video post on social networks regarding Mayor Veliaj’s unfulfilled promises. Due to the number videos posted before Acromax launched the campaign, some Facebook pages and personal profiles have been permanently shut down by Facebook for “continued infringement of intellectual property rights”.

Thus, Acomax has become the digital censorship tool of Veliaj and Rama. It has made it impossible to criticize them by using video images of their statements, even when broadcast on public TV.

What is Acromax?

Acromax is a company founded in 2007 and registered in Hamburg, Germany. Its owners are Aldor Nini and Angela Faber – the latter is the daughter of Floreta Faber, ambassador in the US.

Acromax operates in the field of “digital rights management” – banning illegal distribution of Albanian artists’ music. Acromax’s past history is nonetheless shady, as it has been accused of copyright abuse itself by illegally obtaining the rights to a number of artists. In the most illustrious case, singer and producer Flori Mumajesi has won a case in German courts against Acromax, though public information on the final verdict is limited.

In recent years, the company has focused on “monetizing digital content” for Albanian televisions. Acromax claims to have agreements with almost all major channels in Albania, as well as some in Kosovo and North Macedonia. It has the exclusive right to distribute any content from these channels to digital platforms (Facebook, Youtube, etc.).

Under these agreements, Acromax claims that it has the right to remove any video posts that uses any content from these channels, no matter how brief it may be, and regardless of how it is transmitted. This means that any public statement ever made on Acromax-contracted televisions, even for a few seconds, cannot be used by anyone else.

At Acromax’s request, Facebook and Youtube remove any posts containing such content. Furthermore, under Facebook’s policy, sites or profiles that have repeatedly infringed Acromax’s rights are terminated. Acromax has even managed to block, for “continued infringement of intellectual rights”, pages and profiles that have posted content in the past – before Acromax had an agreement with the broadcasters and began its campaign.

Rights abuse by Acromax

Acromax’s actions are an abuse of digital property rights and appear to be part of a well-planned and well-implemented government campaign to silence voices critical of the government.

First, it is worth stating repeatedly that public statements made in public broadcast on matters of public interest are not comparable in any way to artistic material.

Facebook basically agrees with this premise. Facebook clarifies that “copyright … seeks to protect original works of authorship such as books, music, film and art.” Facebook also claims that this right does not apply to facts and ideas, at least in principle. Public statements by politicians and other public figures on public issues can hardly be classified as “original artwork”.

In the United States, public figures regularly post video clips taken from TV networks. For example, President Trump regularly posts short video clips from Fox News; he has also used montages of old clips to contrast and compare the positions of his current opponents. However, it would be unthinkable for Fox News or MSNBC to enforce property rights for short clips such as those used in these posts.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998 — the main US law regulating digital copyright issues — also refers to original artwork as the recipient of legal protection. The law neither refers, nor is it used in the US, to public statements made by politicians, including those made on TV shows.

Clearly, Acromax’s use of digital property rights is an extreme application of these rights, incompatible with the spirit of the law and best practices worldwide.

Second, Acromax has set two standards: it never removes videos used by Rama and Veliaj, or their followers, while constantly going after their critics.

Albanian government representatives regularly use video content sourced from main broadcasters for their digital propaganda without ever being blocked by Acromax. Prime Minister Edi Rama has gone one step further: he broadcasts every TV appearance live on his Facebook page. The latter, a live broadcast of the full show, should be flagged by Acromax as arguably a copyright violation. Yet, that never seems to be the case.

It seems clear that Acromax’s role is to weaken and silence criticism of Rama and Veliaj on social media. This signals an escalation of the Rama and Veliaj’s efforts to control any criticism of them, by preventing it from ever gaining any traction. By using a private company under their control, they are abusing a commercial right to infringe on the most fundamental right of democracy: that of free speech.

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