RAQs: Recently Asked Questions

Topic: Fair use and Youtube in Academia - 06/23/2021
A taskforce at the college is wanting to use a recent song and video on Youtube. This would be a t...
Posted: Wednesday, June 23, 2021 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

A taskforce at the college is wanting to use a recent song and video on Youtube. This would be a traditional lip dub with a little step up in production as they would use some greenscreen and use some face tracking to animate anti-racist quotes on the faces of the participants. They want to mimic some of the effects in the video as well as add some of our own. So it is transforming the work. Also, this would be a new creation based on the content of the video and use of the music.

In short, they are looking to do a lip dub of the song with their own spin on the video. The college has their own video streaming platform so this would not be on Youtube.
This would be for the campus community but there might be that people could share outside the organization.

The intent is to educate the campus and is part of a greater initiative to promote diversity equity and inclusion.

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

This submission is a "fair use”[1] question coming at us from a private college, so before we delve into a reply, I have to emphasize that the specific analysis in this case is limited to that type of entity (a private, accredited school).

Since it can get boring "emphasizing" disclaimers in prose form, I will emphasize it in verse:

          If ye a public library be

          This analysis is not for ye

          If a SUNY or public school

          Do not swim in this legal pool

Okay.  With that out of the way (and for those of you not put off by either the disclaimer, nor the crude verse), here is my answer:

Riffing on, parodying, and building on popular songs can be an effective way to convey a unifying or powerful message to a group.  The use of a known work of art can build on shared familiarity, while modifying it with a unique twist can create a unique and unifying experience. 

The technique described by the member is a very popular approach for higher education institutions, and for unrecorded performances/parodies/riffs that are done live on campus, the school's ASCAP/BMI may even apply (meaning, the site of the performance has permission).

Of course, this is 2021, and that means, it doesn't happen if it isn't on video (or in a picture).  And since we are still in the midst of a pandemic (although things are looking a tad brighter, here in May of 2021), having a video that is an experience customized, created and controlled by the school is a desirable way to build remote cohesion.

When considering the use of copyright-protected content without permission, there are two factors a private institution must consider:

1. Risk management

2. Copyright infringement

"Risk management" is not about the actual legality of one's actions, but the risk that one's actions will be observed and perceived as illegal.

In this case, the additional circumstances the member lists here (not using YouTube to post the final product) enables "risk management" in two ways: a) the resulting video will not be "purged" from YouTube due to a copyright "red flag" (which can happen even if there is a fair use); and b) by hosting it on a less popular server, it is less likely to be seen by services and bots that are "out there"[2] policing copyright laws.

But of course, an educational institution doesn't want to get away with infringement, it wants to not commit it.  And that is the essence of the member's question: is creation of this derivative work[3] a "fair use"?

In their question, the member has walked us through some of the "fair use" factors. The member identifies as an educational institution. The member states that the use of the work will be "transformative." The institution will use all of the audio, and be evocative of but different from the video.  And, although it is not specifically mentioned as such, the described use of the resulting derivative work will (clearly) not be a replacement in the market for the original.

What is missing from the submission is the consideration: why this particular work?  In order to justify a fair use-especially of an entire work (the audio), the use must not only be transformative, but there must be a reason why that particular work is chosen, and the message sent by the "transformed" work must relate to that reason.

In other words, you don't select the underlying work to re-transmit it at face value; you select the works to say something new, that at least in part, relates back to the riffed/parodied work.

The best example I have seen of this lately is a complete, unaltered use of the "Avengers, assemble," scene from the "Endgame."  The clip is exactly as it is in the movie, with no changes to audio or video, except the author puts captions near the various super-heroes as they show up, giving the characters new names, and drawing an analogy to how they saw the protests of 2020 developing. 

The end result of this modified "Avengers, assemble" clip is not only highly transformative--the clip is no longer in any way about the original superheroes--but the author uses the identities of the originals to make comments about both those iconic comic book figures, and the categorical names he ascribed to them.  It's such a good example, it could be used to teach "fair use" in a law school class (you can see it here, or just search "endgame protestors 2020 avengers" and it'll pop right up).

With regard to this use of audio and video, it is this question--why this particular work was selected--that is the missing piece of the puzzle.  So long as that piece fits in, there is a good claim for fair use.

If it is decided that there is a good reason to select the original work, the other thing to be cautious about is how the end result (the new video with the unmodified audio) is used.  If it is used only as described and is built into a structured discussion about equity and inclusion--especially if the lyrics and images are used as focal points in the discussion-there is a strong case that this is an academic, non-commercial use. 

However, we have to remember that at the end of the day, a college is a place where students pay to be.  If the video bleeds into recruitment materials, or is not coupled with the education/discussion, the more likely the use could be found to be commercial. 

So: the more "academic" the end result (and its context) is, and the more the initiative functions as both a comment on the source material, and its own, stand-alone message, the better.  Since fair use is not simply an additive analysis (it's not just one factor vs. another, but rather, how the factors resolve and then inter-relate to each other), every aspect of this is critical.

Within those parameters, and if care is taken so the video is only used in the educational context (not simply sending a link to it out in a newsletter, without the educational content and context), there is a strong case to make that the new video, inspired by the song’s current video and using that unmodified song, is not a copyright infringement. 

I am sorry I could not be more definitive...answers like this are why very often, people just ask for permission![4]



[1] I am going to jump right into this answer with the assumption that the reader knows the basics about fair use (Copyright Act Section 107).  If you don't know the basics of fair use, you can get the gist on in these "Ask the Lawyer" RAQ’s: https://www.wnylrc.org/ask-the-lawyer/raqs/43; https://www.wnylrc.org/ask-the-lawyer/raqs/78

[2] So I went to find an example of these "bots" and got more than I bargained for; here is an example of not only how video-sharing services shut down fair use on platforms like YouTube and Facebook, but a story about how this blocking is impacting how people film and transmit law enforcement activity: https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2021/02/cops-using-music-try-stop-being-filmed-just-tip-iceberg

[3] A derivative work is a work that incorporates copyright-protected work.  The right to authorize derivative works is one of the six rights reserved to the owner of a copyright.  Parodies that incorporate or draw heavily from the original risk being "derivative works" (and thus infringement) unless they are 1) done with permission or 2) are a "fair use."

[4] For instance, Weird Al, although he could likely claim fair use for many of his parodies, always gets permission.

Tags: Academic Libraries, Copyright, Derivative Works, Fair Use, Music, Parodies, Streaming

Topic: Using music videos for projects - 3/5/2020
An internationally known band released various music videos for the purpose of a contest they were...
Posted: Thursday, March 5, 2020 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

An internationally known band released various music videos for the purpose of a contest they were holding. Fans were asked to create a new video using the clips provided. One of our professors downloaded and saved the music videos and would like to share them with his students so they can use them for an editing project. He would like to post the copied files in his password protected class management system (Black Board.) However, we would also like his students to be able to share their projects either in an eportfolio or online.


My initial reaction is that he should get permission from the copyright holder / publisher for permission even though the band released the content for a contest. I see many danger zones.

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

Some of the trickiest copyright questions I get relate to student work.

Why are they tricky?  Because of a self-imposed rule I have: find a way for the work to be donedon’t let copyright interfere with art and science.[1]  In other words, our copyright glass of scholarship should be half full…of scholarship, not fear of lawsuits.

That said, most readers of this column will know that “educational use” does not justify the wholesale infringement of works, even if the purpose is scholarship.  To use a work without permission, the use must meet the criteria of “fair use.”[2]

But I’m getting ahead of the question.  Let’s bring it back to the beginning.

What’s the tricky issue here?  In this scenario, the band “released various music videos,” and asked the public to create new works based on the old, for entry into a contest.[3]

The band was essentially asking the public to create “derivative works,” which are new works based around a copyright-protected original (think movie sequels, musicals based on books, and paintings of paintings).

The faculty member plans to retain copies and direct students to use them after the completion of the contest, both for assignment and portfolio purposes.  Is that cool?

Now, if the band’s videos were expressly put into the “public domain” for the contest (meaning: no copyright protection) the question ends here. If the clips aren’t protected by copyright, the faculty member’s plans are just fine (it’s cool).[4]

Further, if the band gave a perpetual, irrevocable permission to any person who generates a new video using the clip, to use the clip for whatever reason they want, the question also ends here (again, retain the copy and using it as planned is cool).

But if instead, the band kept the videos protected by copyright,[5] and gave the public permission for only a limited amount of time (say, the duration of the contest), for a limited amount of purposes (say, for entering the contest), then yes, we are in a “danger zone” (not cool).[6]

However, before I agree that the ideal solution is to get the copyright owner’s position, I do want to make a case for fair use, which allows people to use copyrighted works in way that would otherwise be infringing (make copies, make derivative works, and even at times to sell them).

Based on the scenario described, it is not clear if the retention of copies as described in the scenario would be a fair use.  It would have to be justified under the four fair use factors, with the school and student being able to show that the retention of a complete copy and use of the clip for assignment and student portfolio purposes was justified.

The way for a school to do this is to use their fair use assessment form[7] and retain a copy.

To me, aside from the legal concerns, this is also an ethical issue.  A faculty member should not encourage a student to unknowingly infringe another’s copyright, especially if they know that student might include that work in an online portfolio of work.  This could put the student in legal trouble that is independent from the liability of the school.

Students, as individuals, do not have the same protections that higher education professionals have.  Schools, if they conduct a bona-fide fair use analysis, can limit the damages from alleged infringement.  Schools also usually have insurance for this stuff.  Newly-minted B.A.’s and M.F.A’s typically do not have the same resources.  This means, when the student gets sued, they are in a much riskier place than the school or the faculty member.

All that said, remember the mantra: find a way for the work to be donedon’t let copyright interfere with art and science.  What does this mean?  While being cautious to not promote infringement, a faculty member in a medium such as film, or music, should not let students operate in ignorance of fair use, which is so important to both mediums.  Without sampling, without artistic call-and-response, we suffocate creative innovation.

If that sounds complicated, it is!  I will be reaching out to this member to talk the specifics through (that part is confidential).



[1] Promotion of “science and the useful arts” is the reason we have IP law in the first place (see U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section I, Clause 8).

[2] Or Section 110(a) or (b) of the Copyright Act. But you can read out that here [INSERT PERMALINK].

[3] As gimmicks go, I like this one.  I wish my favorite author, Umberto Eco, had invited me to write a chapter of “The Name of the Rose.”  I would have had Adso and William fire-proof…uh, sorry, spoiler.

[4] I speak legally, not pedagogically.  I have no idea if this would be a good film class assignment; I was a Russian History/U.S. Constitutional law major at an experimental school with no grades or tests (Hampshire College).  Other than once attending a class on the classic film “Battleship Potemkin” and whatever skills can be gleaned from serially watching the musical “1776,” I have zero credentials to evaluate the curriculum of a film course.

[5] Which, by the way, the band might not even own.

[6] For the record, if I were the lawyer advising this band, the contest terms would have contained a clause allowing my client to revoke permission to use the clip and participate in the contest in the event an entry was contrary to their values (racist, sexist, transphobic, etc.). 

[7] More information using a Fair Use Assessment form can be found here: https://copyright.cornell.edu/fairuse

Tags: Copyright, Derivative Works, Fair Use, Music

Topic: Does repurposing a book affect copyright? - 4/5/2019
Our library is always seeking ways to promote literacy, exercise, and park visits with community p...
Posted: Friday, April 5, 2019 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

Our library is always seeking ways to promote literacy, exercise, and park visits with community partners. One proposal we received was to take some books apart, laminate the separate pages, and mount them on display posts throughout a park, creating a moving, learning experience. 

I have a copyright concern. Can we “dismember” the books and laminate the pages and still respect the books’ copyright?

 

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

A “Path Through Learning!”  This sounds like a really cool idea. 

The member is right, though: to put this cool idea into effect as described, a library would need the permission of the copyright holder.

It’s hard to believe, but liability is just a rip and a lamination away.

Why is that? 

Although the “first sale” doctrine allows the purchaser of a book to resell and display the book—and even to make creative book arrangements in display cases and front windows--it is not a defense to cutting images from the book and re-mounting or laminating them. 

This is because courts have found that re-mounting or laminating covers or pages torn from a magazine or book creates a “derivative work” that is an infringement of copyright. [1]

“Derivative works,” are works that incorporate, “recast, transform, or adapt” part or all of a “pre-existing work,” without meeting the element of a “fair use” defense, or transforming what they’ve borrowed to the point where the original can’t be discerned.

Of course, an essential element of a derivative work is the “pre-existing work…” meaning, the work in its recognizable and copyright-protected form.  If I pulped my comic book collection and made a piñata out of it, that would not be a derivative work[2].  But sequels, adaptations, companion materials, and, yes, laminations, can run afoul of this right held by a copyright holder.

How do sellers of mounted, and perhaps laminated baseball cards do what they do?  Since nothing has been ripped or separated, there is insufficient “transformation” to make it a derivative work.[3]

So where does that leave the “Path Through Learning” concept?  Although it would have an educational purpose, based on the case law I found, a copyright owner could have a viable claim for an unauthorized “derivative work” being used to illustrate the path.  Further, unless there was some intrinsic commentary or criticism of the works selected, a fair use defense would be weak to non-existent. So as proposed, it is risky indeed, and the member is right to be concerned.

The good news is that I have two solutions.

First, based on the case law, protecting (via lamination, display box, treasure chest, etc.) and displaying entire copies of the books, with the pages open to a certain spot, could be an allowable display.  Just make sure they aren’t being marked or altered.

Second (and probably best): ask for permission.  The “Path Through Learning”[4] is a charming idea. I bet many authors and publishers would be delighted to give permission.  After all, you’re promoting their book!  Simply reach out, describe the project, and ask the rights holder if you can create the separately laminated pages for it.  It can’t hurt to ask, and they might say yes.  Of course, when they do, get the permission confirmed in writing.

Thank you for this interesting question.

 



[1] Rosebud Entertainment, LLC v. Prof’l Laminating LLC, (U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, Norther Division, 958 F. Supp. 2d 600 (magazines), and Mirage Editions, Inc. v. Albuquerque A.R.T. Co. (books).

[2] I winced just typing that!  I love my comic book collection.

[3] Allison v. Vintage Sports Plaques, 136 F. 3d 1443 (11th Circuit, 1998)

[4] I am sure the member has come up with a better name for this.

Tags: Copyright, First Sale Doctrine, Derivative Works, Photocopies

Topic: Using books on social media - 9/19/2017
Can we film a story time done at the library using copyrighted books, and then either stream the e...
Posted: Tuesday, September 19, 2017 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

Can we film a story time done at the library using copyrighted books, and then either stream the event live over Facebook for a one-time showing, or film and upload the story time to our library's YouTube channel? The purpose would be so that patrons who cannot come to the library will still be able to participate in story time and gain early literacy benefits.

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

This is a lovely idea, but any library considering something like this should get assurance that the work is in the public domain[1], or have permission from the authorized licensor (who is not always the copyright holder), before filming/streaming. 

This is because an audio recording[2] of a copyright-protected book is likely a “derivative work” (a work based on the original[3]) that, without permission, constitutes an infringement. 

A great example of a permitted derivative work is a commercially published audiobook.  Check out the credits on an audiobook listing—they generally recite two copyrights: the first for the original work (used with permission), and the second for the audio recording.  This is how the law both limits and promotes such recording.

A few other legal considerations approach this scenario, but don’t quite apply:

  • “Fair Use” would not apply, as the reading would likely use a large portion (if not the entirety) of the work, and the purpose is not transformative, nor for commentary/criticism. The fact that the transmission would be for a worthy goal, consistent with a library’s mission, is likely not enough to make the use Fair--even if the effect on the market would be insubstantial.
  • If the recordings were purely for ADA accessibility[4], there could be an argument, but such a project would need to be planned carefully, but that is not the purpose in the example.
  • The TEACH Act, which allow academics at TEACH-registered institutions to stream copyrighted content, but that only applies under very precise circumstances.[5]

That said, because a live reading could promote the works featured, I imagine there are publishers who would grant a limited license for such an endeavor.  However, depending on their contract with the author(s), a publisher might not be able to!  In any event, asking permission is a case-by-case exercise.

The good news is that the reading itself, at the physical location of the library, is allowed so long as it meets Section 110 (4)[6] of the Copyright Act (this probably isn’t news to most librarians). 

Very often, attorneys are perceived as throwing cold water on project like this, and hopefully this answer has shown why that is usually our only option.  That said, if there is ever a specific work a library wants to plan an event around (a specific book, etc), it is worth it to investigate the status and licensing posture of that work.  You never know what you’ll find when you check the status, or the ability to get permission, for a specific work.

I wish you all good reading.

 


[1] No longer protected by copyright…and for that matter, not affixed with a trademark the owner could claim you infringed.

[2] Because it technically “makes a copy” as it goes, streaming is often considered duplication.  If you ever feel like causing a healthy debate, ask three intellectual property attorneys and a U.S. Supreme Court Justice to comment on this line of case law.

[3] Per Section 101 of the Copyright Act: A “derivative work” is a work based upon one or more preexisting works, such as a translation, musical arrangement, dramatization, fictionalization, motion picture version, sound recording, art reproduction, abridgment, condensation, or any other form in which a work may be recast, transformed, or adapted. [Emphasis added.]

[4] Per Section 110 (8) of the Copyright Act.

[5]Those circumstances are listed in the ALA’s TEACH Act FAQ.

[6] Law linked here.

Tags: Copyright, Public Domain, Streaming, Derivative Works, Social Media, Story time, Online Programming, TEACH Act, Library Programming and Events

The WNYLRC's "Ask the Lawyer" service is available to members of the Western New York Library Resources Council. It is not legal representation of individual members.