Everyone Assumes Copyright Only Applies When They Like It

from the silliness-all-around dept

Having written about copyright issues for so long, we’ve started to notice some trends. For instance, many people try to twist copyright law to the point where it only applies when it helps them, and suddenly doesn’t apply when it helps them not to have it apply. In fact, this is so common that many people falsely assume that the same is true of us — claiming that we’d be pissed if people copied our content (it’s the usual retort to those who are unsure of copyright’s benefits). Of course, for us, it’s not true. If people want to copy our content for fun or for profit, they’re free to do so. Yet, it is true that we often see people who should know better freak out when it’s “their content” being used. These scenarios never make anyone look good.

You may recall the group NOM, an advocacy group fighting against gay marriage, that we talked about on this site a few weeks ago because of a bogus takedown notice it sent to YouTube on content that it almost certainly did not own the copyright on. NOM also seemed to have no sense of fair use.

How quickly things change.

NOM had no problem then taking 3 seconds of a clip from the blogger known as Perez Hilton and putting it in an advertisement. Perez Hilton the played the role of the copyright bully, sending a highly questionable takedown notice, claiming the 3 seconds was copyright infringement. Except, as pretty much anyone would tell you, the use was almost certainly fair use, and if anyone should know that, it’s Perez Hilton. Yet, it was rather amusing to see NOM, just weeks earlier a staunch questionable takedown notice issuer, suddenly finding themselves on the flipside, defending fair use against a DMCA takedown.

And, how quickly things change again. Because just as Hilton is claiming that using 3 seconds of his own video is copyright infringement and not fair use, Ben Sheffner notes that Hilton has posted a 10 minute video of CNN footage, including his own Perez TV overlay and his own pre-roll ad at the beginning, along with a single sentence beneath the video.

Personally, I think both uses should be perfectly fine (the law, as it currently stands, is more likely to accept NOM’s use, but not Hilton’s), it’s still illustrative of the way many people view copyright. It’s an issue to protect you, but it’s a hindrance when it gets in your way. Of course, we see this quite often with politicians. It’s why Nicolas Sarkozy, who is pushing for incredibly strict new laws relating to copyright in France was found to have ignored copyright law when it suited him. We saw the same thing last year when a Canadian politician who was pushing for the Canadian DMCA was caught infringing on copyright himself.

While some claim it’s just hypocrisy, I think it actually represents one of the fundamental flaws of copyright itself (or, really, any monopoly system). Monopolies aren’t being used to create incentives to create. They’re used to stifle others and to “protect.” These days, almost everyone uses them and views them as tools of protection rather than an incentive to create. When you get so far away from the entire purpose of copyright law, you have a system ripe for widespread abuse.

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Comments on “Everyone Assumes Copyright Only Applies When They Like It”

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Ima Fish says:

was found to have ignored copyright law when it suited him

As a side note to what you’re talking about, Mike, this really shows how out of hand copyright has become as of late.

As originally enacted, it was next to impossible to accidentally infringe a copyright. Originally you had to physically publish a song or book onto paper with a printing press to infringe. There was no other way to copy a song or a book and there was no performance right protected by copyright.

Nowadays we infringe copyrights numerous times throughout the day without even thinking about it. Watching an unauthorized SNL clip on YouTube. Playing the radio in the background at work. Loaning a copy of your Finding Nemo DVD to play at your kids’ daycare. Downloading some clip art to use in a personal scrapbook. Scanning your own wedding photos.

And yet, despite the fact that copyright is so utterly pervasive in our lives that we simply cannot reasonably function without innocently infringing, some people actually want to make copyright laws more stringent?! Such a course of action defies any sense of logic, but if the past is any indication, the copyright industry will prevail and get their more stringent laws.

It’s truly sad, really.

Anonymous Coward says:

I am quite sure the ad agency hired to do the NOM ads could care less about copyright and more for the contract with NOM. I bet *that* was the interesting discussion here. Also note, their actor audition tapes were copied in their entirety, whereas NOM only excerpted three seconds of material. Copyright law does make a distinction between the two – and why you will most not likely see the videos on youtube but will see a *few* seconds on Rachael Maddow. But copyright law has long fallen wrong and misinterpreted since the seventies.

Kieth’s Lewis’ made his rant look completely phony when he brought the issue up today over Miss California’s crown.

Chris Garrett says:


Hi I’m Chris Garrett

I’m doing a research project on copyrighting for my teacher and many people that i have talked to are very hypocritical about that stuff. But with all of the lawsuits I think it is very hard to pin someone down for stealing an inanimate object, a piece of coding. But companies are trying hard like the Pirate Bay Lawsuit, many companies are trying to target the source, because getting all the individuals is to great of a job for almost anyone.

fishbane (profile) says:

Re: Copyright

But with all of the lawsuits I think it is very hard to pin someone down for stealing an inanimate object, a piece of coding. But companies are trying hard like the Pirate Bay Lawsuit, many companies are trying to target the source, because getting all the individuals is to great of a job for almost anyone.

Could you be more clear? I can’t tell if you’re saying “it is hard to pin someone down” in the sense that one can nail someone in court, or if you mean it is difficult to use the threat of legal intervention to stop someone from doing something.

Of course, both of those lead to the same results, which is sort of the point being made by Mike (and a matter of serious concern to a lot of u)s. But perhaps that isn’t your project.

It isn’t hard to find examples of hypocrisy – you’re on the right blog to find them. I’m sure you’ve already googled “WRT54G”, and done the same with “intellectual property” in the search string.

So, what else are you looking for?

Grimp says:

Better barriers

I think all this argues in favor of requiring copyright owners to make an initial showing that someone is infringing before they can send a DMCA takedown notice.

For example: Show the original work and the alleged infringing work to a court and get a court order to send a DMCA notice. I admit, our courts are already drowning in cases, but some similar requirement that says “this probably isn’t fair use” would be helpful.

Peter (user link) says:

hypocrisy is a logical fallacy

Great comment, Mike. Each case stands on its own (which is a problem, as you note), and the fact someone opposes fair use in one instance does not deprive him of the right to claim it otherwise. Hypocrisy does not disprove the merits of one’s claim (see, e.g., http://www.cityethics.org/node/518). Shepard Fairey gets accused of hypocrisy a lot. I hope he’s becoming more educated in his lawsuit with AP about fair use and backs off some of his more ridiculous infringement claims. see: http://blogs.geniocity.com/friedman/?p=1816

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