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in Filmmaking
on Jan 2, 2008

Over at the Center for Social Media/American University Law School, Pat Aufderheidi and Peter Janzi have published a study of online video and user-generated content that attempts to chart the limits of fair use within this emerging field.

From their web page:

When college kids make mashups of Hollywood movies, are they violating the law? Not necessarily, according to the latest study on copyright and creativity from the Center and American University’s Washington College of Law.

The study, Recut, Reframe, Recycle: Quoting Copyrighted Material in User-Generated Video, by Center director Pat Aufderheide and Peter Jaszi, co-director of the law school’s Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property, shows that many uses of copyrighted material in today’s online videos are eligible for fair use consideration. The study points to a wide variety of practices—satire, parody, negative and positive commentary, discussion-triggers, illustration, diaries, archiving and of course, pastiche or collage (remixes and mashups)—all of which could be legal in some circumstances.

Fair use is the part of copyright law that permits new makers, in some situations, to quote copyrighted material without asking permission or paying the owners. The courts tell us that fair use should be “transformative”—adding value to what they take and using it for a purpose different from the original work. So when makers mash up several works—say, The Ten Commandments , Ben-Hur and 10 Things I Hate about You , making Ten Things I Hate about Commandments —they aren’t necessarily stealing. They are quoting in order to make a new commentary on popular culture, and creating a new piece of popular culture.

Unfortunately, this emerging, participatory media culture is at risk, with new industry practices to control piracy. Large content holders such as NBC Universal and Viacom, and online platforms such as MySpace and Veoh are already crafting agreements on removing copyrighted material from the online sites. Legal as well as illegal copying could all too easily disappear. Worse still, a new generation of media makers could grow up with a deformed and truncated notion of their rights as creators.

The report goes on to recommend a “blue-ribbon panel of scholars, makers and lawyers” to determine a set of “best practices” that can guide filmmakers in what should be legal and what probably is not when incorporating copywritten material in new original works. The entire study can be downloaded as a PDF from the web page linked above. And, also on this page: the “top five” online videos in each of the nine categories (“Personal Reportage/Diaries,” “Satire and Parody,” etc.) the center has come up with to classify web video. So, in addition to learning something about intellectual property law, you can check out clips like 7 Minute Sopranos and The Ten Most Ridiculous Things about the Beyonce Experience while you’re doing it.

(Thanks to Boing Boing for the link.)

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