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Fair Use and Mashups

July 9, 2008

vcmike

The Center for Social Media has just released a Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video.

After getting over the pit I felt in my stomach from this throwback to my days as an attorney, I think the authors’ commentary regarding mashups is actually pretty relevant and useful to entrepreneurs in the online video space. Here it is:

DESCRIPTION: Video makers often create new works entirely out of existing ones, just as in the past artists have made collages and pastiches. Sometimes there is a critical purpose, sometimes a celebratory one, sometimes a humorous or other motive, in which new makers may easily see their uses as fair under category one. Sometimes, however, juxtaposition creates new meaning in other ways. Mashups (the combining of different materials to compose a new work), remixes (the re-editing of an existing work), and music videos all use this technique of recombining existing material. Other makers achieve similar effects by adding their own new expression (subtitles, images, dialog, sound effects or animation, for example) to existing works.

PRINCIPLE: This kind of activity is covered by fair use to the extent that the reuse of copyrighted works creates new meaning by juxtaposition. Combining the speeches by two politicians and a love song, for example, as in “Bush Blair Endless Love,” changes the meaning of all three pieces of copyrighted material. Combining the image of an innocent prairie dog and three ominous chords from a movie soundtrack, as in “Dramatic Chipmunk,” creates an ironic third meaning out of the original materials. The recombinant new work has a cultural identity of its own and addresses an audience different from those for which its components were intended.

LIMITATIONS: If a work is merely reused without significant change of context or meaning, then its reuse goes beyond the limits of fair use. Similarly, where the juxtaposition is a pretext to exploit the popularity or appeal of the copyrighted work employed, or where the amount of material used is excessive, fair use should not apply. For example, fair use will not apply when a copyrighted song is used in its entirety as a sound track for a newly created video simply because the music evokes a desired mood rather than to change its meaning; when someone sings or dances to recorded popular music without comment, thus using it for its original purpose; or when newlyweds decorate or embellish a wedding video with favorite songs simply because they like those songs or think they express the emotion of the moment.

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