Tag Archives: Fair Use

The Tricky Task of Defining “Fair Use” in an electronic world

Copyright-imageAlmost every copyright infringement dispute regarding the Internet and electronic media comes down to the tricky task of defining what is Fair Use.

The Fair Use provision of US Copyright law was meant to ease the ways in which copyrighted material could be used to facilitate research. Teachers could reproduce portions of copyrighted material to illustrate a lesson, news reporters and broadcasters would not have to worry if copyrighted material was used incidentally during a news report.

This definition was crafted before the Internet was even a speck on the horizon. At that time using copyrighted material posed a bit of a challenge but in today’s world, where copyright infringement is a right-click away, Fair Use has blown up into a political issue with lobbyists now attempting to stretch the initial intent of the law to fit in digital world.

So far, determining how to apply Fair Use to the Internet and electronic media has proven to be a complex task for the courts. In the mammoth Google/YouTube v. Viacom copyright infringement case, the final decision of the court revolved around an interpretation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which addresses the liability of the online service provider, while dancing around the proverbial elephant in the room…the definition of Fair Use.

Cory Doctorow has an interesting post in which he discusses a very concise definition of Fair Use put forth by Tim Wu. Wu’s proposed definition of Fair Use is as follows:

If it adds new value, it’s Fair Use. If it substitutes for the original, it’s infringement.

It’s simple enough, to be sure, but it’s far more favorable to the users of content than it is to the creators of that content. It tracks along the lines of the ideas in Lawrence Lessig’s book Remix which argues that creative content should become something freely available to all for the benefit of moving the culture forward (how did our culture ever move forward before Lessig?). With Remix Culture, content can be used and turned into something else without the permission or remuneration of the original creator. Take a Beatles song, put some new beats on it and viola, you’re a composer.

Lobbyists now talk of the Fair Use Industries and a Fair Use Economy. I would ask – Fair Use Economy vs. what? The Copyright Economy? There is some heavyweight positioning going on trying to broaden the interpretation of Fair Use. To me this is almost always being done to restrict or remove the existing rights of content creators.

To see how the digital world can quickly skew the concept of Fair Use, one need only look at homemade videos uploaded to YouTube. Here you have a non-commercial, family video that uses a popular song as a soundtrack (obvious fair use). But then it gets uploaded to YouTube and becomes site content. Fair Use? It’s now an issue of interpretation. Is the content still Fair Use because the user created the content for private use, or does it infringe on copyright because that content is now an asset of YouTube, a money-making enterprise.

Yes, things get murky in an electronic world. Here’s my understanding of copyright and Fair Use. It’s also a simple definition but it’s one that is being rigorously challenged.

If the content in question is not original to your project (not created by you/in-house or work-for-hire) and its usage is contributing to a commercial enterprise then it is not fair use and the media should be legally licensed.

Dispelling Confusion About Classrooms and Copyright

33130_Hobbs_Copyright_72ppiRGB_150pixwIncorporating media into classroom presentations has become much simpler today. However, for educators, the vast array of materials online often creates confusion regarding the legality of its usage.

Media literacy expert Renee Hobbs’ great new book Copyright Clarity – How Fair Use Supports Digital Learning provides a complete and concise look at what is, and what is not, acceptable for classroom use.

The book explores:

  • What types of usage are permissible for classroom use
  • How to create class projects that follow copyright laws
  • Fair Use of digital materials such as images, music, movies, and Internet elements found on sites such as Google and YouTube
  • The latest trends in intellectual property law and copyright practices

“This long-awaited book relieves educators’ anxieties about the legality of using copyrighted materials during instruction and presentations. In addition to answering questions about fair use practice in an easy-to-understand manner, Hobbs offers examples of how technology supports essential literacy and communication skills in 21st-century classrooms.”
—Diane Lapp, Distinguished Professor of Education
San Diego State University

The book expresses legal concepts in a easily understandable fashion, allowing educators to confidently incorporate captivating media tools into their lessons and presentations without concern about infringing on copyright laws.

If you’re an educator, check out Copyright Clarity. It will settle any confusing issues you’ve experienced where you’ve not been sure if your usage of a given media was within the boundaries of copyright law.

Copyright, Fair Use and the Internet

This fine article from Forbes.com describes the current cloud surrounding interpretations of legal doctrine of Fair Use.  The Fair Use doctrine is a part of USA  Copyright law that describes the conditions that have to be in place when using copyrighted material without permission from the creators.

Digitization and the Internet have blown the issue of what is and what is not “Fair Use” up beyond anyone’s imagination.  When the concept was originally set as part of copyright law, Fair Use was to

  1. facilitate the quotation of excerpts in a review or criticism for purposes of illustration or comment
  2. allow for the reproduction by a teacher or student of a small part of a work to illustrate a lesson;
  3. allow the reproduction of a work in legislative or judicial proceedings or reports;
  4. to allow the incidental and fortuitous reproduction, in a newsreel or broadcast, of a work located in the scene of an event being reported.

The Forbes.com article, written by Dan Fisher and Dirk Smillie makes these important points…

The real problem? Copyright laws never anticipated a time when people would be able to broadcast essentially private content all over the world, including scraps of copyrighted material.

Yet for all its importance, [Fair Use] remains a tricky concept courts determine on an agonizing case-by-case basis–making it difficult to determine whether the Next Big Thing on the Web is providing a valuable public service or violating copyright law on a wholesale basis. Judges must consider the nature of the work that has been copied, how much of it has been copied, and whether the copying hurt the ability of the content owner to make money off of it.

Today’s tug-of-war is mainly between Internet content providers, who use the doctrine of Fair Use as the rational behind posting copyrighted material without permission and content creators who believe that some content web sites are infringing on their copyrights and thus their right to earn money from their creations.

In the end, it’s about money. You have web content providers using Fair Use to enhance their business model on one hand and on the other, you have the content creators who feel that today Fair Use is being used to take money away from them.

The many angles of Fair Use in copyright

A recent article in the New York Times draws into focus the many differing interpretations and perspectives surrounding copyright law’s doctrine of Fair Use.

The article describes how three separate parties, a young musician, Google’s YouTube service and the Warner Music Group, became entangled over the use of the Christmas classic “Winter Wonderland”

The musician, Juliet Weybret, uploaded a video to YouTube that showed her performing the song. A few weeks later she was informed by YouTube that the video was being taken down because of objections by the Warner Music Group.  Warner Music Group owns the copyright for Winter Wonderland and currently has no licensing agreement in place with Google.

Ms Weybret rightly felt that she was using the song in a noncommercial way and therefore was within the tenets of fair use. She was not gaining financially in any way by performing the song. It was basically a home video that she put on YouTube. The performance is not a money making venture, it doesn’t compete or impede Warner Music Group from earning income from the song. If you look at the performance itself, it is certainly fair use and does not infringe on the copyright in any way. 

Warner Music Group, no doubt, feels the same way about the performance.  However, when that performance is uploaded to YouTube and becomes part of the content of a multi-million dollar enterprise, then the notion of the performance (the video) as fair use is challenged. In Warner’s view, the video now contributes to the income YouTube makes from showing videos on the web.  The use of the video by Google/YouTube is therefore not fair use.  

Use of third party copyrights without permission has dogged YouTube since it became a major Internet presence.  The company initially relied on Fair Use as well as the safe harbor provision of the DMCA as an argument for not removing video content.  That decision created a substantial amount of push-back from copyright holders and a slew of lawsuits followed. Google now has a very high-tech filtering system that will automatically remove videos that use unlicensed content from YouTube.  

From the NY Times article…

Referring to Ms. Weybret, Ben Sheffner, a copyright lawyer in Los Angeles who has worked on antipiracy at the 20th Century Fox movie studio, said, “From her persepctive it’s completely noncommercial because she’s not making a dime. But from another perspective it’s entirely commercial because Google is trying to make money off it”

Yoko Ono loses copyright suit over use of Lennon’s Imagine

On June 2nd, the judge in the copyright infringement case Yoko Ono brought against the creators of the film “Expelled” for their use of John Lennon’s song Imagine has ruled in favor of the filmmakers based on a the “fair use” doctrine.

U.S. District Judge Sidney Stein rule that “the doctrine provides that the fair use of a copyrighted work for purposes of criticism and commentary is not an infringement of copyright.”.

You can read the judges entire decision here. Those interested in the fair use doctrine should take the time to read the judges opinion because he very thoughtfully describes and then rules on each of the criteria that make up fair use.

  • The Purpose and Character of the Use
  • The Nature of the Copyrighted Work
  • The Amount and Substantiality of the Portion Used in Relation to the Copyrighted Work as a Whole
  • The Effect of the Use Upon the Potential Market for or Value of the Copyrighted Work
  • The judge’s decision seemed mainly to rest on a subsection of “The Purpose and Character of the Use”, namely Transformative Use. Here is the ruling.

    ii. Transformative Use
    A work is transformative if it does not “merely supersede the objects of the original
    creation” but “instead adds something new, with a further purpose or different character, altering the first with new expression, meaning, or message.” Although transformative use “is not absolutely necessary for a finding of fair use, the goal of copyright, to promote science and the arts, is generally furthered by the creation of transformative works.” Thus, transformative works “lie at the heart of the fair use doctrine’s guarantee of breathing space within the confines of copyright.”

    There is a strong presumption that this factor favors a finding of fair use where the allegedly infringing work can be characterized as involving one of the purposes enumerated in 17 U.S.C. 107: criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching . . ., scholarship, or research.

    Defendants’ use is transformative because the movie incorporates an excerpt of “Imagine” for purposes of criticism and commentary. The filmmakers selected two lines of the song that they believe envision a world without religion: “Nothing to kill or die for/ And no religion too.” As one of the producers of “Expelled” explains, the filmmakers paired these lyrics and the accompanying music to a sequence of images that “provide a layered criticism and commentary of the song.” The Cold War-era images of marching soldiers, followed by the image of Stalin, express the filmmakers’ view that the song’s secular utopian vision “cannot be maintained without realization in a politicized form” and that the form it will ultimately take is dictatorship. The movie thus uses the excerpt of “Imagine” to criticize what the filmmakers see as the naivety of John Lennon’s views.

    Conclusion Regarding Fair Use
    The balance of factors clearly favors a finding of fair use. Defendants’ use of “Imagine” is transformative because their purpose is to criticize the song’s message. Moreover, the amount and substantiality of the portion used is reasonable in light of defendants’ purpose. Although “Imagine,” as a creative work, is at the core of copyright protection, and defendants’ use of the song is at least partially commercial in nature, the weight of these factors against a finding of fair use is limited given that defendants’ use is transformative. Finally, plaintiffs have not shown that defendants’ use will usurp the market for licensing the song for non-transformative purposes. In sum, allowing defendants’ use would better serve “the copyright law’s goal of promoting the Progress of Science and useful Arts . . . than [would] preventing it.”

    Ono’s position had been that she had the right to control use of the song by reviewing and choosing licenses. She also had the right to reject uses of the song. She brought the suit because she believe the filmmakers had “looted her of the ability to do so”.

    Fair Use of Lennon’s Imagine in Expelled?

    Yoko Ono’s attempt to get an injunction against the film “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.” will shine a much needed light on current interpretations of the “fair use” provision of copyright law. Fair use is easily the haziest and least understood aspect of US copyright law.

    Yoko Ono (and EMI and Capital Records) is seeking to have about 15 seconds of John Lennon’s recording of Imagine removed from the film. The injunction doesn’t ask for the film to be removed from theaters, it is asking for Lennon’s music to be removed from the film.

    from the New York Times coverage

    Ono sued in state and federal court, accusing the movie’s producers of infringing on the song’s copyright by using parts without her permission.

    The movie, which opened on U.S. screens in April and is set for release in Canada on June 6 and on DVD in October, presents a sympathetic view of intelligent design, the theory that the universe is too complex to be explained by evolution alone.

    The filmmakers acknowledge they did not ask Ono for permission to use 15 to 20 seconds of the song. But they argue they are protected by the ”fair use” doctrine, which permits small parts of a copyrighted work to be used without an author’s permission under certain circumstances.

    At a hearing in U.S. District Court in Manhattan this week, the filmmakers’ lawyer, Anthony T. Falzone, said that if the judge granted Ono’s request for an injunction against the film, it would ”muzzle” the filmmakers’ free-speech rights.

    Falzone said the segment of the song in the film — ”nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too” — was central to the movie because ”it represents the most popular and persuasive embodiment of this viewpoint that the world is better off without religion.”

    The film, he said, is ”asking if John Lennon was right and it’s concluding he was wrong.”

    [Sidenote] Actually I don’t think John Lennon was saying in Imagine that the world would be better off without religion, I think he was saying that people get tied to their own particular beliefs and by doing so a lot of trouble is created in the world. Imagine is about breaking out of boundaries that are created by oneself.[end Sidenote]

    The filmmakers’ attorney, Anthony Falzone is the executive director of the Fair Use Project and a lecturer in law at Stanford University. He believes very strongly that copyright law, as it stands now, is in major need of reform. You can read his brief in this case here.

    I notice that Mr. Falzone is associated with the Center for Internet and Society at Standford Law School. This is not surprising. A large faction of those that work and think about the Internet (Wired, Fast Company) would like to broaden current interpretations of copyright law and especially fair use.

    Getting to a contemporary interpretation of fair use is incredibly important because of the use or misuse of copyrighted work on the Internet. Part of YouTube’s main defense against Viacom will be arguing fair use (amongst other things like DMCA).

    What the law says about fair use…
    107. Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use

    Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include

    (1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
    (2) the nature of the copyrighted work;
    (3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
    (4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

    The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.

    Richard Prince and the Art of Fair Use

    In a world where it has become incredibly easy to make exact copies of others work, when, if ever, does that work become your own?

    This is the overriding question in a New York Times article, published on December 6th, entitled If the Copy Is an Artwork, Then What’s the Original?.

    The article, written by Randy Kennedy, is about the working methods of the artist
    Richard Prince. Mr. Prince’s art is currently being celebrated in a 30-year retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City.

    One of the methods Mr. Prince uses to create his art is to take photographs of other existing photographs that he finds published as advertisements in magazines.

    The strength of the art is that the images he photographs, once removed from their function as advertisements, comment on our culture showing us archetypical images of our society – images that Madison Avenue ad execs have learned have great power. One of Prince’s favorite co-opted images is the Marlboro Man.

    But it seems some of Mr. Prince’s photographs are nothing more than enlargements of existing photos. Mr. Prince has done little more than make the decision that the image matches his artistic sensibility. He then calls his enlargement of the existing photo his work and sells that work for increasingly high dollar values. In fact, one of his Marlboro Man pictures set an auction record for a photograph selling for 1.2 million.

    The NY Times article centers around Jim Krantz, a successful commercial photographer who took several of the Marlboro Man ad photos “appropriated” by Mr. Prince. One Prince photograph, which sold at Christie’s for $332,300, is an exact duplicate of Mr. Krantz’s original except that it has been blown up to a huge size. Mr. Krantz says, “there’s not a pixel, there’s not a grain that’s different.”

    Jim Krantz was paid by the Philip Morris Company for the original photos but has received nothing from Richard Prince. To date, Krantz has asked for no monetary compensation. He is asking for some type of acknowledgment or credit as the original photographer. After all, it’s not just the photo itself, it’s the composition – the conception, the pose, the exact moment to capture – these things were decided by Krantz and re-used by Richard Prince.

    The matter provides a stunning look at the challenges facing interpretations of the Fair Use statute within US copyright law. The NY Times article says…

    Mr. Krantz, who has shot ads for the United States Marine Corps and a long list of Fortune 500 companies including McDonald’s, Boeing and Federal Express, said he had no intention of seeking money from or suing Mr. Prince, whose borrowings seem to be protected by fair use exceptions to copyright law.

    My interest concerns whether Mr. Prince’s use of other people’s photographs truly qualifies as fair use. Here is the law….
    In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include:
    (1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
    (2) the nature of the copyrighted work;
    (3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
    (4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
    The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.

    (1) clearly, Richard Prince’s art is of a commercial nature.
    (2) a photograph is a copyrightable work.
    (3) in some cases, it appears that Prince has used 100% of the copyrighted work.
    (4) this is the main issue – the effect upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work – when an ad campaign is over, do the elements of the campaign, the photo, the copy, do they have any further value? Has the use by Prince harmed the further value of the photograph? This would be the crux of any fair use challenge.

    Mr. Krantz said it best, “If I italicized ‘Moby Dick’, then would it be my book? I don’t know. But I don’t think so.”

    Though Jim Krantz owns the copyright to most of his photographs, he no longer owns the copyright to the Marlboro Man photos. The Philip Morris Company, the maker of Marlboro cigarettes, owns the copyright. Any fair use challenge to Richard Prince’s art would have to initiate from Philip Morris.
    UPDATE: A year later, in December 2008, Richard Prince would lose a copyright infringement suit when the judge ruled his use of photographs by Patrick Cariou was not Fair Use as outlined by copyright law.
    UPDATE: Just want to reference this very good article which was published in the Wall Street Journal, March 25, 2011, entitled When Appropriation Masquerades as Reconceptualized Art. The writer, Eric Felten, reports on the Patrick Cariou vs Richard Prince/Gagosian Gallery copyright infringement case which involved Prince’s use of photographs from the book “Yes, Rasta,” by French photographer Patrick Cariou. Cariou spent six years taking pictures of Rastafarians in Jamaica. Prince lost the case.

    Copyright law for Photographers

    While reading Geetesh Bajaj’s Powerpoint blog on his excellent Indezine website, I came across a Powerpoint presentation that I think would be useful to all media producers who struggle with copyright and licensing issues.

    The powerpoint presentation deals exclusively with copyright infringement as it pertains to photography and is the work of PACA (the Picture Archive Council of America ). It lays out the basic copyright law but it is the case studies that are included that really make this document worth your time. You get to see actual infringement cases, what the infringement charges were, and you can see side-by-side, the actual photograph and the infringement photograph. Other points…there is no fixed % an image can be changed to avoid infringement. That is a common myth that circulates within design studios.

    The presentation deals with Fair Use, the DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act), ISP Safe Harbor and the public domain. All in all, it’s a really good document to know about if you are ever unsure about your usage of a photo or any other work which you want to use but don’t own the rights to.

    A good take-away from this presentation that I would emphasize is that often permission and licensing is easily obtainable directly from the source. In other words, instead of going into competition against a photographer, by recreating a photo (the composition), it is cheaper in the long run to contact the creator and obtain permission to create a derivitive work.

    The PACA presentation can be downloaded here

    Copyright 2.0, a new podcast discussing recent copyright headlines

    I’ve been listening to a fairly new podcast created by Chris Matthieu, the founder of Numly and Jonathan Bailey, writer of the blog Plagiarism Today. In their podcast, titled, the Copyright 2.0 show, they discuss many copyright and intellectual property issues that have made recent headlines. What’s more, links to all news stories they discuss are made available through a del.icio.us page.

    The podcast is fairly low-key and conversational. Both Chris and Jonathan stress that they are not lawyers and are not offering advice on copyright law, they are examining copyright in this era of Web 2.0 and digital information.

    You can hear the podcast by clicking on the “Play” button on the player below. There are several shows to choose from.