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Creator of #JeSuisCharlie tries to protect its meaning

More often than not, someone coins a phrase or posts a photo on Twitter that gets adopted by the masses and evolves into a trending conversation. This most recently occurred following the attacks on the Paris newspaper Charlie Hebdo, when graphic designer Joachim Roncin plastered the words “Je Suis Charlie” across a black background and shared an image that soon became a rally cry for free expression.

Now, Roncin is trying to gain legal protection over the phrase to protect its original meaning and purpose. According to Agence France-Presse, the French patent office turned down 120 applications to take ownership of “Je Suis Charlie” for commercial purposes.

“At the moment I’m working with lawyers to fight this as much as possible, to ensure that objects derived from this slogan only serve the purpose of furthering freedom of expression,” said Roncin.

When it comes to rights over ideas and content shared on a social network, the rules are still being written. And, as The Atlantic points out, commercializing tragedy in the age of social media has become a murky practice.

Trademark attorney Sharon Daboul told The Atlantic that those involved in such tragedies are forced to “think about registering the marks themselves simply in order to get there first and prevent third parties exploiting such incidents for their own benefit.”

To date, #JeSuisCharlie has been tweeted 5.3 million times. Beyond Twitter’s sphere, the phrase has been used in marches around the world, and has spawned similar conversations including “Je Suis Juif” (“I am Jewish”). Whether you are Rosin or one of the many who has tried to repurpose the phrase, the enormity of its use makes it all the more difficult for someone to claim ownership over the idiom.