“Fair Use”, Sounds Simple Doesn’t it? Well, Not Really

This quote from Larry Lessig’s TED Talk stood out to me:

“I’m talking about people taking and recreating, using other people’s content using digital technologies to say things differently,” said Lessig, adding that although media has done this since the birth  of television, it’s something that anyone can do as long as they have access to a computer, calling it “democratized.” “These tools of creativity have become tools of speech. It is literacy for this generation. This is how our kids speak, this is how our kids think. It is what our kids are, as they increasingly understand digital technologies and their relationships to themselves.”

If you noticed, this TED Talk is from 2007, right around the time social media started to take over our world. Social media started to become ubiquitous around this time, where pretty much everyone knew what platforms such as Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, and some became familiar with a new kid on the block, A.K.A, Twitter. My point is, with social media, came the frequent use of GIFs and memes to spread information in the form of creative or entertaining content, which aligns with Lessig’s point of “tools of creativity have become tools of speech.”

Kids or kids who are now adults that grew up with the frequent use of memes, Vines or TikTok videos are using these tools to communicate ideas or facts, and in reality do define themselves through these platforms and content, as terms such as “YouTubers”, “influencers”, “TikTok Star” have emerged as modern terminology.

Copyright exists to prevent others from taking someone’s original work and using it without their permission.

I believe everything should be done carefully and with consideration when it comes to copyright. Follow that website or user’s guidelines when it comes to copyright and you should be fine. Sometimes you have to recognize and know where to find these guidelines, especially if you are into using others’ content for your own purposes.

Fair use allows the unlicensed use of copyrighted content to be used in another form, such as creative content. Examples of this are provided in the anime remix and the George W. Bush remix video in the Lessig TED Talk.

As for Andy Baio and his experience with fair use and the law, it seems as if fair use isn’t just allowing unlicensed use. There are caveats and judging by his case, it’s quite contentious.

As the story goes, Baio used the cover of Jay Maisel’s photo of Miles Davis’ album Kind of Blue and attempted to convert it into pixel art.  He gets a friend to do this after he couldn’t do it successfully. In turn, he gets sued by Maisel and his attorneys, demanding $150k for infringement and  $32,500 for the violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

From Baio’s article about the experience, here are the factors included in his own words:

Factor 1: “Has the material you have taken from the original work been transformed by adding new expression or meaning? Was value added to the original by creating new information, new aesthetics, new insights, and understandings?”

Factor 2: “The second fair use factor is the nature of the copyrighted work. Works that are published and factual lean towards fair use works that are unpublished and creative towards infringement.”

Factor 3: “Although the illustration does represent the cover of Kind of Blue, it does so at a dramatically reduced resolution that incorporates few of the photograph’s protectable elements. Courts routinely find fair use even where the entirety of an image is used.”

Factor 4: “The impact on the market value of the original work. It’s obvious the illustration isn’t a market substitute for the original: it’s a low-resolution artistic rendering in the style of 8-bit computer graphics that is, at best, of interest to a few computer enthusiasts.”

As for the fair use guidelines set by the government, provided by Baio:

  1. The purpose and character of your use: Was the material transformed into something new or copied verbatim? Also, was it for commercial or educational use?
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion taken, and
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market

Fair use all seems so technical and really does, as Lessig argues, impede on creative control. Baio makes the argument on his website, “You shouldn’t have to ask permission to create something effectively new,” and it essentially sums up this whole assignment and Lessig’s TED Talk.