Over 100 Danish lawmakers broke copyright laws on social media

Some 126 members of the Danish parliament broke copyright laws in 2022 by sharing music and images on social media without the owner’s permission.

Over 100 Danish lawmakers broke copyright laws on social media
Danish politicians broke copyright laws on social media hundreds of times in 2022, a newspaper investigation has found. File photo: Dado Ruvic/Reuters/Ritzau Scanpix

Over 1,000 instances of unauthorised use of copyrighted materials by Danish MPS occurred in 2022, newspaper Politiken reports based on research it conducted in collaboration with law professor Sten Schaumburg-Müller of the University of Southern Denmark.

The politicians who breached copyright came from eight different parliamentary parties, the analysis found.

When sharing images on platforms such as social media, the poster needs permission from the person who has the rights to the image. This is usually the person who took the photo or created the image in question.

According to Politiken’s count, a Danish member of parliament shared a photo without permission from the copyright holder on 956 occasions.

The remaining 94 occasions involve breaches of music copyright according to the analysis. In these instances, the politician has a special obligation to receive permission for using music on their social media accounts.

While private individuals can use music in the background of their posts, politicians are required to ask for permission according to copyright expert Morten Rosenmeier, a professor at the University of Copenhagen.

“If you are a musician and supporter of a specific political view, it might feel offensive if a politician with completely different views than those you stand for uses your music to promote their political interests,” he told Politiken.

The newspaper documented the copyright breaches by contacting either the responsible politician or the copyright holder.

Several of the politicians who breached copyright laws last year have subsequently deleted the offending posts, according to the report.

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Lawyers criticise Danish parliament for ‘special treatment’ of party leader

Two lawyers have accused parliament of double standards for deciding not to legally pursue Alex Vanopslagh, the leader of the Liberal Alliance party, after he was found to have breached rules relating to apartments provided to MPs.

Lawyers criticise Danish parliament for ‘special treatment’ of party leader

Parliament’s decision not to take Vanopslagh’s case to the courts suggests that the public and politicians are not equal before the law, according to two lawyers who spoke to broadcaster DR.

As an elected member of parliament, Liberal Alliance leader Vanopslagh was provided with a free apartment in Copenhagen and given parliamentary subsidies for “double household” (dobbelt husførelse) because he was registered as living at an address in Struer, West Jutland.

It later emerged he did not genuinely use the Struer address as his home and had thereby broken the rules. He later paid back the subsidies in full and returned the Copenhagen apartment.

“I’m not for one second in doubt that if this had been a municipal case, the municipality would have asked for the money back and reported him to the police,” lawyer Mads Pramming, a benefit fraud specialist, told broadcaster DR.

In 2019, parliament – including Liberal Alliance – voted for stricter rules on benefit fraud, including obliging municipalities to report certain types of cases to the police.

“It looks a bit funny that parliament is enacting strict control to prevent the public being paid money they are not entitled to, and giving municipalities an obligation to report it. And when it then comes to parliament itself, things are a lot less strict,” Pramming told DR.

Struer Municipality has ruled that Vanopslagh broke CPR (central person registration) rules by not living in Struer enough between 2020 and 2022 for it to be deemed his actual residence, as he claimed at the time.

Two left-wing parties, Red Green Alliance and Alternative, have called for the Præsidium – speaker’s council – in parliament to consider whether Vanopslagh should be prosecuted over the issue.

The speaker of parliament, Søren Gade, has told DR that the case will not be taken further. A previous case from 2015 has been cited as precedent for the decision.

A second lawyer, Michael Bjørn Hansen, called that stance “absurd” in comments to the broadcaster. Hansen also has expertise in benefit fraud cases.

“Based on some kind of objective consideration, this is certainly benefit fraud. Because he has cheated on some rules and received public benefits which he is not entitled to,” he said.

Equal status before the law “is not present here” unless parliament files a report with police, he argued.

“This is different to the demands parliament is making on municipalities,” he said.

The Præsidium is responsible for managing Denmark’s 179 lawmakers. Five members of parliament sit on the council, with the speaker being the senior member.

Vanopslagh has admitted to wrongdoing in the “double home” scandal and said his knowledge of the rules had been lacking.

“It’s my fault, I made a mistake. But other people make the judgement and say what I have to pay back,” he said earlier this week.

A number of legal experts previously told newspaper Dagbladet Information that the matter should be investigated by the police.

Vanopslagh received a total of around 75,000 kroner to which he was not entitled, according to DR.