Armenian Police vs. Satirical Armenian Video Series SOS

11.06.2015, Newsroom

Journalist

The Police of the Republic of Armenia and police officers Artur Madatyan and Sergei Zakaryan have launched a lawsuit against host of satirical Armenian video series SOS on YouTube, Vilen Gayfejyan (pictured, right), for harming their honor and dignity and tarnishing the good reputation of the Armenian police force. 

The officers were offended by the 11th episode of the series titled "G7" uploaded on May 24, 2015, where, according to the lawsuit, a comment likening police officers to "faggots" [the equivalent in Armenian was used in the broadcast] and other humiliating references to police were made.

The plaintiffs are asking for a public apology to both the RA Police and the two officers, as well as compensation of 1 million AMD (about $2,095 USD) to each of the two police officers. 

Prior to taking the matter to court, the police reported the video to YouTube, claiming the clips used in the video from police footage were a violation of copyright. YouTube temporarily restricted access to the video and, as noted in the lawsuit [AM], informed the police that "If it [YouTube] does not receive proof that the rights holder [the police] filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against the original uploader within 10 days, it might reinstate the video."

According to the creators of SOS, they didn't know they were violating copyright when they used clips from a video posted on the official website of the Armenian police.

"We thought that videos on the police website were free to use," said the series' director, Hayk Barseghyan.  

According to attorney Gevorg Hayrapetyan, there's no copyright infringement in using clips from the police broadcast series "02".

"On one hand, according to the Law on Copyright, information on current events and news is not an object of copyright; on the other hand, taking information from the police website without asking the police completely fits within the context of the right to freedom of information, since it's official information — it is created by the police, disseminated through the police website, and published for use. And the freedom of information law includes seeking […], receiving […], transmitting, and disseminating information," says Hayrapetyan. 

Attorney Movses Hakobyan believes the police complaint to YouTube is groundless, since, according to Armenian legislation, video can be used for the purpose of parody without the author's consent. 

"According to Article 22 Section 2 Point J of the RA Law on Copyright and Related Rights [AM], modifying published creative work is allowed for fair use, if it is modified for parody or caricature, provided it does not cause confusion toward the original (the source)," says Hakobyan. 

On June 1, the police filed a defamation lawsuit in court.

Appealing to the court on behalf of police, head of the police legal department Hovhannes Kocharyan, in an interview with 1in.am [AM], said the series creators made those offensives statements deliberately and intentionally, to harm the reputation of the police in the eyes of the public. 

"There have been [other] broadcasts criticizing police before [this one], but for the first time we saw a demonstration of such exceptional cynicism toward the servants of an entire system who have children and families, and broadcasting a program of such preposterous irony has no connection with humor whatsoever," he said. 

The creators of the satirical video series believe they did not offend the police.

"They took it upon themselves. It's the same thing if you were to curse in the presence of 50 people and one person gets offended, says you cursed at me," says SOS director Hayk Barseghyan.

According to attorney Gevorg Hayrapetyan, the Police of the Republic of Armenia cannot be offended, since honor and dignity are attributes that refer to private individuals, not legal entities. 

"Offense is a public expression made with the purpose of harming a person's honor, dignity, or business reputation through words, images, audio, symbols, or other means. Honor is the appraisal of a citizen's spiritual and social attributes, while dignity is an individual's evaluation of his own attributes. In other words, honor and dignity are the opinion formed in society of a specific individual's qualities," he said. 

Hayrapetyan notes that offense is possible also toward a legal entity, if an expression sullies its business reputation.  

"But does the police force, which is a state body, have a business reputation? I think the police has absolutely nothing to do with business and entrepreneurship; therefore, it also does not have a business reputation. And even if, according to the police, the terms 'good reputation' and 'business reputation' are synonymous, in this case, the police, all the same, is somewhat mistaken, since disclosing the content of 'good reputation' in legal instruments, the legislative body has considered that good reputation are dignity and business reputation," he said. 

The preliminary hearing in the police vs. SOS will take place on July 28, 2015, at 3 pm at the Court of First Instance of Arabkir and Kanaker-Zeytun Administrative Districts of Yerevan.

Anna Barseghyan

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