by Timothy Lee
Tue, Jan 22nd 2008 7:05am
Slate has a clever video comparing Hillary Clinton to Tracy Flick of the movie Election:
This isn't a blog about politics, so I won't venture an opinion on whether this is fair to Sen. Clinton or not, but the video has sparked some interesting discussion about copyright law. First, Cynthia Brumfield points out that this is precisely the kind of video that Hollywood (specifically, NBC's Rick Cotton) would disallow under the fair use doctrine. Cotton argues that "the assembly of unchanged copies of different copyrighted works" shouldn't counted as fair use, but that there should be "something more" to qualify. This is quite vague, but it seems pretty likely that the above video, which is basically just 45 seconds of movie footage interspersed with footage of Sens. Clinton and Obama, wouldn't qualify under his test. But Chris Soghoian points out an even more obvious way that Slate may have broken the law: the most likely source of the video clips in question would likely be from a DVD. As Soghoian points out, the video is too crisp and clear to have come from a VHS tape. It's conceivable that it was taped from a cable TV broadcast, but I think he's right that the most obvious source would likely have been a DVD. If that's the case, then the video editor in question almost certainly broke the law, because DVD-ripping tools like Handbrake are illegal "circumvention devices" under the DMCA. Of course, it's not likely Election distributor Paramount will actually sue Slate, which is owned by the influential Washington Post Company. But I think it illustrates the extent to which the letter of the law is diverging from everyday practice. In a sane world, there would be no question that videos like this one would be legal. But in the world we actually live in, no one is sure what the law is, and people developing these kinds of creative works need to be constantly worrying about possible legal problems.
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