Don't Celebrate Copyright Being Used For Political Censorship Just Because You Don't Like The President
from the still-abusive dept
You may have heard the story recently of how the band REM got a video in a tweet taken down after Donald Trump had retweeted the video. CNBC has the details:
A satirical video using music from rock band R.E.M., which was shared by the Twitter account of President Donald Trump, has been removed from the social media site after a complaint by the publisher of the band’s songs.
A lawyer for Universal Music Publishing Group had reached out to Twitter on Friday asking that the video — which was first posted by another user — be taken down from the platform, a source familiar with the situation told CNBC.
The clip, which runs more than two minutes in length, plays audio from R.E.M.’s early-’90s hit single “Everybody Hurts” over excerpts from Trump’s Feb. 5 State of the Union address.
This started to spread around on Twitter, and I saw lots of people who hate the President celebrating over this victory in yanking the stupid video (and it was stupid) from his tweet. REM and bassist Mike Mills celebrated:
— Mike Mills (@m_millsey) February 15, 2019
World Leader PRETEND!!! Congress, Media–ghost this faker!!! Love, R.E.M.
— R.E.M. HQ (@remhq) February 15, 2019
But, even if you absolutely loathe the President and his silly partisan gloating, you should be very concerned about this. And, I know, that some people are already screaming (because they did it already on Twitter when I first brought this up) that REM has “every right” to control its work how it wants to and that includes not letting the President use their music. That’s mostly true. And the video may, indeed, have been infringing.
But the problem is that this wasn’t used for any of the reasons that copyright specifically enables. It was flat out used because the band didn’t like the politics or the political message. In other words, it was using the law to stifle political speech. That was the entire intent behind the move (REM and Universal have let other similar clips remain up) — which REM and Mills are basically admitting with their tweets. They used copyright to censor a political message because they disagree with it. Copyright (in the US) isn’t supposed to be used that way. Other countries have something called “moral rights,” which would make such a takedown legitimate under moral reasons, but in the US copyright is explicitly an economic right, and not a moral one. And thus, any use of copyright — even if otherwise legit — is a form of copyfraud, in which the power of copyright is used not because of economic concerns, but directly to censor speech.
So even if you love REM and hate the President, if you believe in free speech, you should certainly be concerned about the use of copyright as a tool for outright censorship of speech someone didn’t like.