On the topic of fair use of copyrighted material ….

FreeImages.com/Marcelo Gerpe
FreeImages.com/Marcelo Gerpe

Our focus at CaSMa tends to be on safeguarding the rights of the individual in a world where digital innovation is changing the status quo. While we are accustomed to think of privacy or personal property on an individual based level, the extension of these concepts at the collective or non-human level is usually at the crux of copyright issues. This week marked an individual’s moral victory on the issue over in America: the ruling in an eight year old trial stated that holders must respect the right of fair use of copyrighted material.

The particulars are simple: back in 2007, the media giant Universal had used the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) provisions to ask YouTube to take down a user’s video of her baby’s first steps on account of a distorted bit of copyrighted audio being audible in the far background. The user argued fair use, Universal disagreed. Objectively, the case is not very important: it brings no modifications to existing US law, it did not provide a big pay out to the plaintiff.

On the grand scale, the ruling is relevant in support of many new digital media behaviours which are attacked as fraudulent based on outdated legislation or perceptions. Industry and policy are constantly trying to find new ways to monetize social media and a great percent of these attempts are content oriented: they want people to engage, to be active, to create content. But, most importantly, they want content which can bring value (meaning new, original and claimable) without infringing in any way upon existing portfolios of copyrighted material. This subjective stance means that there are ongoing debates on the legal acceptability of a wide range of typical practices displayed by the digital user, from public criticism (can you comment on a public figure by using footage of them?) to transformative works (can you upload free amateur art inspired by copyrighted material?). It will be interesting to see if this new precedent will cause any ripples in the ongoing fight over copyright.



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