Over the last week or so, there have been a bunch of news stories about the (now gone, as we'll explain in a moment) twitter account, 555uhz
, which had been tweeting every half an hour what appeared to be a captioned frame-by-frame image from the classic 1980s movie, Top Gun
, starring Tom Cruise. It was slightly weird and quirky, like plenty of random Twitter accounts. This one had picked up a little over 6,000 followers, but late last week Paramount began sending DMCA notices
to the account, leading to Twitter shutting down the account entirely
, likely for getting so many infringement claims.
We are writing to you on behalf of our client, Paramount Pictures Corporation (“Paramount”). Paramount is the owner of copyright and other intellectual property rights in and to the “Top Gun” motion picture (hereinafter referred to as "Top Gun"). No one is authorized to copy, reproduce, distribute, or otherwise use Top Gun without the express written permission of Paramount.
Notwithstanding this, it has come to our attention that a user of your website, @555uhz, is distributing the Top Gun film, frame by frame, via your website. The following URLs are some examples from the user’s Twitter account, with additional frames being uploaded continuously:
But, really, this seems like a massive overreaction by Paramount -- doing its typical "if we didn't approve it, it must be taken down" approach to copyright. In what world is seeing this going to somehow harm Paramount?
Is it really likely that someone will follow along with the one tweet every half an hour and decide they no longer need to see the actual movie? While it's anecdotal, in the last week when there was so much buzz about the account, I saw multiple people mention that because of the tweets, they wanted to go out and rewatch the movie (with at least one person admitting to never having seen it before). So, if anything, it seemed to generate more attention for the movie. And, just like typical shortsighted copyright maximalists, even things that act as good promotion must be killed "because... piracy."
Way to go Paramount lawyers. You've once again used copyright maximalism to hold back
your own marketing.
Separately, it seems that a fairly strong argument can be made that this is fair use. It seems to be pretty clearly transformative. It's hard to see how it harms Paramount. It's not commercial. True, assuming that the full thing was tweeted, the "amount" of the work weighs against fair use, as does "the nature of the copyrighted work" (a movie), but on balance there's a reasonable argument that this particular setup would be considered fair use.
As a random aside, there's been some random speculation as to why the account was named @555uhz, but the folks over at Vice have a pretty clear explanation
, discussing the framerate being shown. After first noting that a typical movie is 24 frames per second (fps), Vice calculates the actual framerate of the tweets:
But, the real framerate of @555uhz isn’t 24 frames per second, nor is the Twitter account sampling 24 frames per second. The real framerate is the rate at which the account posts frames to Twitter, just like the real framerate in a movie is the rate at which a spool of film projects images onto a screen. We can figure the Top Gun tweet-rate out easily enough: 48 tweets a day, two tweets an hour. That winds up being 2/60 or .034 frames per minute. Now, convert that to frames per second: .000555. Look familiar?
Frames per second is a more specific version of the unit Hertz (Hz), and 1 Hz is just one full cycle of some periodic thing (like sound waves, for example) happening in one second. So we actually have .000555 Hz, which converts nicely to 555 microHertz (uHz).