Can A Contract Remove Fair Use Rights?
from the we-may-soon-find-out dept
However, as Kevin Smith (not the filmmaker we've been talking about recently, but rather someone at the Duke University Library) notes in the post above, there is an interesting claim in the motion, where UCLA suggests that the breach of contract claim (which comes under a state law) is preempted by federal copyright law. If I remember the details correctly (and you copyright lawyers out there, feel free to correct me), with the Copyright Act of 1976, that law basically superseded any state laws that covered the same grounds. Mostly, people have thought this meant that state copyright laws effectively were wiped out (though, as we've seen, some awful remnants of those laws remain).
However, what UCLA seems to be arguing, is that federal Copyright Law could also wipe out portions of state contract law as well, if those aspects are covered by copyright. It's a creative way of saying that you can't contractually give up aspects of copyright, such as fair use. Now, there are some areas where it's known you can't give up what copyright says via contract. You can't, for example, contractually give up your termination rights (which let you take back a copyright you assigned to someone decades later). Also, it's not quite the same thing, but the recent ruling in the Augusto case has suggested that there are situations where you don't give up copyright exceptions (in that case, first sale) -- but it's distinguished by the fact that the court effectively said there was no license on promotional CDs (despite a stamped on "license" text).
So rather than relying on something like that, UCLA seems to be relying on preemption of state contract law, to say that even if you signed a license agreement, fair use rights can still apply. It's an interesting point. I'm of a mixed opinion on whether or not it's a good thing, however. I am a fan of such copyright exceptions, and would be worried if we started to see fair use "licensed away" in more situations. However, would that also mean that we couldn't license away other aspects of copyright law? Would that cause trouble for certain types of licenses, like Creative Commons licenses?
I'm guessing that the court may skip over this issue entirely, in that it can just hand UCLA a victory on the sovereign immunity or lack of standing claims and just move on without addressing this issue. However, I do expect that it will show up again in other lawsuits at some point.