Key Fair Use Case Settles, Rather Than Continue (And, No, It's Not The Beastie Boys)

from the settlement-day dept

Yesterday was apparently "settlement day" for high profile copyright cases. Lots of attention was paid to Google and Viacom finally settling the ridiculous seven year battle in which Viacom tried to fight the future and reinterpret the DMCA... all for naught. And then, you may have seen that the Beastie Boys and Goldieblox settled their high profile lawsuit as well. However, that was almost a foregone conclusion. There was no way that lawsuit was going to move forward.

However, a much more important copyright case, also settled. The legal fight concerning fair use between photographer Patrick Cariou and famed artist Richard Prince also happened to settle on the very same day. We'd been covering that important fair use case, which really highlighted the importance of the "transformative" step in determining fair use. Prince had taken photographs of Cariou and created "collage paintings" in which he added to the photographs. While a lower court had said this was not just infringing, but that Prince's artwork (valued at millions of dollars) needed to be destroyed, an appeals court, thankfully, mostly overturned the decision, declaring that most of the works in question were fair use, and leaving the lower court to re-examine whether a few more were or were not transformative enough to be fair use.

As with the YouTube lawsuit, the settlement means that the final precedent set by this case is not nearly as clear-cut as it could be, but (again like the YouTube case), on the whole, the state of the case when it ended is generally useful. With YouTube, while the appeals ruling could have been more definitive concerning the DMCA's safe harbors, it was generally supportive of them and completely rejected Viacom's wacky theories. Similarly, in this case, while the appeals court didn't wholly support fair use for all of Prince's works, at the very least it did find most of them to be fair use, and (unlike the district court) recognized that immediately jumping to a claim of "infringement" and ordering the destruction of artwork that the art world clearly valued quite a lot was a dangerous step to take. While some might argue that having an eventual Supreme Court ruling in either case helps establish a clearer set of rules, given the unpredictable nature of the Supreme Court on copyright issues, the settlement in both of these cases, when the results were generally positive, may be the best thing for the state of copyright law currently.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  • icon
    Baldaur Regis (profile), Mar 19th, 2014 @ 2:16pm

    Ah yes, The Case Of The Funky Collages. In reviewing it, I'm shocked the copyright holders of other elements incorporated into the collages didn't dogpile on top of Prince as soon as that magic word - **!!MILLIONS!!** - was uttered.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), Mar 19th, 2014 @ 2:22pm

    Safe harbors?

    Still no word on what the DMCA takedown system (the so-called "safe harbors") actually keeps safe. It didn't keep Aereo safe. It didn't keep YouTube safe; what kept them safe was the fact that YouTube is owned by a company that can afford to take on Viacom in court. Anyone smaller would have been run out of business even though the "safe harbors" say they are in the right.

    So what is this incredible good that the DMCA takedown system is actually doing for the Internet? Because while it might be theoretically keeping some hypothetical company somewhere safe, the only actual effect I see is enabling extrajudicial removal of content with no proof and no due process, and no I don't see how that does anything to improve the Internet.

    The DMCA has to go, "safe harbors" and all.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), Mar 19th, 2014 @ 9:27pm

      Re: Safe harbors?

      The 'protection' it affords seems to be reducing criminal and/or civil charges to 'just' having to pay out the nose to defend yourself.

      The trick to replacing, or removing it, is that those who quite enjoy using it to shut down competition will likely try and gut what protections it offers, while retaining the ability to sue-into-oblivion whoever they please, whenever they feel like it, except now with actual criminal/civil charges in play.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Mason Wheeler (profile), Mar 20th, 2014 @ 11:50am

        Re: Re: Safe harbors?

        Good. Let it happen. Without the DMCA's takedown system muddling things up, the defendants can file for declaratory judgment under the premise that they act as a common carrier and cannot be held liable for the actions of their users, and they would win. All it would take is one case to set a precedent, and the entire Internet would become a lot safer. But that case does need to happen, and on something this important I bet the EFF folks would bend over backwards to make it happen without oblivion-izing the defendant in question.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 19th, 2014 @ 4:28pm

    Who won?

    The lawyers.
    What did they contribute to society in exchange for their "work"?
    That is a question you must answer for yourself.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 20th, 2014 @ 12:00pm

    Speaking of the Beastie Boys case, I was right. GoldieBlox settled, admits wrongdoing, and is going to pay a financial penalty. Looking forward to your write-up and reconciliation with that one!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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