Fair Criticism

A bill has been introduced in Congress to offer more latitude to users of digital media by extending fair use to areas that were made murky when the DMCA went into effect. According to The Wired Campus blog

The bill (HR 1201), the Freedom and Innovation Revitalizing U.S. Entrepreneurship Act of 2007, or Fair Use Act, would amend the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to allow librarians, archivists, and others to bypass copyright protections on digital content in certain circumstances. Among the supporters of the legislation are the American Library Association and the American Association of Law Libraries.

I’m glad to see any effort to get some balance back. Congress has started posting copyright notices on podcasts of hearings (huh?) and when law professor Wendy Seltzer posted on YouTube the the snippet of the Superbowl broadcast that makes the ridiculous claim that you are forbidden to describe the game without their permission because they own the copyright, she got a take down notice. Careful next time you’re talking about a football play you saw on TV or you might get sacked! And don’t even tell anyone you can’t tell anyone because they own the exclusive rights to that statement, too!

One thing the bill includes is that excerpts of digital media, protected by DRM, could be used fairly for criticism, comment, news reporting, scholarship, or research. You’d be protected if you circumvented the technological shrink wrap for these purposes. It doesn’t say you could post it to YouTube, but it’s a step in the right direction. Surely society should be able to view a copy of an absurdity like that pseudo-copyright claim in order to criticize and comment on it?

Speaking of YouTube, Walt Crawford reflected on on a previous post I made here about the urge to monetize content having the paradoxical effect of making content unavailable. I agree that “I just wanna have fun” isn’t a fifth factor of the four factor test. I was really just saying I wish big media would recognize the value of loosening up a little. The fact is, if you post a thirty-second clip of The Daily Show to YouTube, you will get a take-down notice and it will be removed whether or not it’s fair use.

Books don’t disappear into the ether like digital media. They don’t come with locks. It’s easier to exercise fair use with traditional media. I used to show students Colbert’s hilarious take on Wikipedia via YouTube until it vanished. It’s not on the Comedy Central website, and since I didn’t make a copy of the YouTube clip I can’t use it, even if it’s fair use. I suppose I could go to a lot of trouble to buy a copy, if Viacom is willing to sell me one. But dang it, that just seems unfair.

Author: Barbara Fister

I'm an academic librarian at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota. Like all librarians at our small, liberal arts institution I am involved in reference, collection development, and shared management of the library. My area of specialization is instruction, with research interests also in media literacy, popular literacy, publishing, and assessment.

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