Friday, September 7, 2007

More on Fair Use

Vindu Goel of the Mercury News had an article on the Chris Knight v. Viacom saga that I referred to in my previous post on "fair use". His conclusion is that Viacom's use of Knight's video was "fair use", but Knight's posting of the Viacom's video on YouTube was not:

Alas, under the law, Knight is wrong ...

Viacom based its clip on Knight's work, but the show's commentary and editing made it something distinct, with its own copyright protection.

Legally, that means Knight can't post Viacom's clip without permission unless he adds something that would create yet another video - in effect, a commentary on Viacom's commentary. Got it?

"The problem Knight has is what he did with Viacom's work wasn't transformative. It's what I would called unadorned copying," said Anthony Falzone, executive director of Stanford Law School's Fair Use Project.

Now, I understand that if you add nothing to a copyrighted work, then it is considered to be "unadorned copying". But if you do add something to a copyrighted work (as Viacom did to Knight's original video), then is it okay? Consider the case of the Grey Album. has the following synopsis of the case:

DJ Danger Mouse remixed the vocals from Jay-Z's The Black Album and the Beatles' White Album and called his creation The Grey Album. He sent about 3,000 promo copies out, and was soon served with a cease-and-desist notice from EMI, who owns the rights to the White Album master.

DJ Danger Mouse clearly produced a transformative work. And yet EMI felt within its rights to serve the cease-and-desist notice. This case never went to trial since DJ Danger Mouse complied with the request (another example of the imbalance between the small artists and giant corporations). So we (or rather, I) don't know what the law would say here. But what DJ Danger Mouse did does seem very similar to what Viacom did in the Knight case.

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