First casualties of the EU war on memes

With the proposal of the Copyright Directive as part of sweeping new EU legislation the EU it seems has outlawed memes. While the Copyright Directive is not law yet it has not stopped EU regulators from inflicting the first casualties of what will become the Great Meme War.

Opening Salvo

Bahnhof, a Swedish Internet service provider, posted the distracted boyfriend meme showing the boyfriend (you) eying the woman in the red dress (Bahnhof) while his girlfriend (your current employer) looks on in irritation as part of an advertisement. The regulator, Reklamombudsmannen (pronounce that I dare you! It’s Sweden’s Online watchdog agency), claimed that the image objectified women making them look like sex objects and are replaceable by portraying them as workplace representatives. Further it was also sexually discriminatory towards men by creating a stereotype that they think women are interchangeable. The advertisement was not ethical and would have to be removed the regulators determined. Bahnhof would not be fined as the agency does not have the power to impose sanctions but they fought the decision anyway.

A recruiting pitch

The meme was part of an effort by Bahnhof to try to recruit new sales people, technicians and web designers. It was shared on both their Facebook and Instagram accounts. The CEO of the company argued that they were just trying to make the company more attractive to younger people as a better employer than what they have now. He said that everyone knows how the meme is interpreted on the Internet and that gender is irrelevant in this context. Obviously the regulators did not agree though they did acknowledge there is humor in the image.

It would be no surprise that an ISP would want to draw its workforce from more tech savvy people and it should also be no surprise that they would turn to social media for an advertising campaign. In this instance the meme is widely popular all across in the Internet after it went viral last year and has been viewed by millions if not billions of people. But all it takes is one person to complain and that is what it seems happened.

No stranger to controversy

Bahnhof is no stranger to controversy. They converted an old civil defense center into a data center and provided hosting for WikiLeaks amid founder Julian Assange’s rape accusations in Sweden which were dropped in 2017. The CEO stated in 2010 even he was unsure what all was being hosted by the company. Bahnhof has in more recent years refused to hand over its customer’s data and publically tracks copyright trolling in Sweden where companies threaten citizens into taking down images or pay exorbitant sums of money. They are at the forefront of copyright reform in Sweden though it seems they are fighting a losing battle. The case was investigated by Reklamombudsmannen since there was no precedent established in this instance.

The reaction on the Internet to this has not been positive towards the regulators. Meme worthy one could say. That should be no surprise but no one expects it to get any better in Europe once the regulatory agencies have the ability to actually fine or imprison someone. It looks like the Great Meme War is on in Europe and it has claimed its first casualty.

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