Roskomnadzor, the Russian body responsible for regulating the media, has recently announced that it is illegal to post any memes which depict public figures in a way that has nothing to do with their personality. This is not a new law, it is merely a clarification of existing law in light of a recent court ruling. Posting celebrity memes online is an incredibly popular activity, and many Russian citizens are likely unaware that such a broad range of activity is now illegal.
The announcement by Roskomnadzor was in response to a recent lawsuit where Russian singer Valeri Syutkin sued a wikipedia-style site because it contained an image which paired his likeness with offensive lyrics from another artist’s song. The judge ruled in favor of Syutkin. This ruling prompted Roskomnadzor to make a post on the Russian social networking site Vkontakte, to explain what activities are now illegal.
It’s not just memes which are illegal. Parody accounts on sites like Twitter, which mock public figures, are also banned. The reason given for banning such images and accounts is that they, “harm the honor, dignity and business of public figures,” according to the announcement from Roskomnadzor. Any public figure who believes that memes or accounts have been made using their likeness can report it to Roskomnadzor, which will file claims in court on their behalf. Websites will be required to block the offending content in Russia, and failure to comply will result in the entire site being blocked in the country.
This policy stands in stark contrast to many Western countries, which give wide latitude to such actions. While there are defamation laws to protect a person’s reputation, some sort of harm needs to be proven. There is also a higher standard required to prove defamation when dealing with public figures. This Russian law is the complete opposite; it exists specifically to protect public figures. This policy serves the powerful and influential and further restricts freedom of speech in Russia.
Do you think this policy goes to far, or is it justified to protect the reputation of public figures? Leave your comment below.