Markus Beckedahl, blogger, digital rights activist and one of the representatives of Creative Commons Germany, inspired a raging controversy within the German blogosphere with the following simple statement:

“Anyone, who actively uses the Internet and shows media literacy, constantly infringes copyright.”
(German original: “Jeder, der das Internet aktiv nutzt und Medienkompetenz zeigt, begeht die ganze Zeit Urheberrechtsverletzungen.”)

David Ziegelmayer, lawyer at CMS Hasche Sigle, immediately cast doubt whether Beckedahl were serious and admits to be swept off his feet by that statement. He claims that, on the contrary, uneducated users are responsible for copyright infringments such as unauthorized copying of pictures and texts, not the media literate ones.

Simon Möller, law blogger at Telemedicus, however supports Beckedahl’s claim and gives the following five examples:

  1. Commented links in blogs: the media literate blogger copies passages of texts, includes the links and a short comment. such a behavior is not covered by the citation exemption of copyright due to the unqeual ratio between cited text and comment.
  2. Embedding videos in blogs, since this would often require a license.
  3. Using ID pictures:  the rights for publishing ID pictures online is normally not acquired from the photographer.
  4. Unclear terms in open content licenses such as, for example, the Creative Commons NonCommercial clause (see also “Standardizing via Polling” on this blog).
  5. Using cloud services, which are not necessarily covered by extant copyright exemptions, at least in Europe.

In the end, Möller speculates that the reason for the outrage is that most legal professionals and academics recommend to improve media literacy as a response to problems with copyright in the online realm. And it is indeed provocative to argue that increasing media literacy would not lead to a reduction but might even increase copyright infringements by regular Internet users.

Two things seem particularly remarkable about this debate: first, even if some of Möller’s examples are wrong these nevertheless evidence a great deal of legal uncertainty not only for laymen but also for laywers and even copyright experts. Second, all of  the examples are developed with respect to German copyright law and do not account for the transnational dimension inherent in most – if not all – online activities.

In a way, the argument is similar to the one Sigrid Quack and I made in a recent contribution to an ESF Exploratory Workshop on “Consuming the Illegal“, in which we argue that even copyright experts have difficulties to draw the line between legal and illegal due to regime complexities and the transnational dimension inherent in everyday online usage practices (see “Consuming the Illegal? A Contribution to an Exploratory Workshop“).