There seems to be an ongoing copyright war which has been raging since the inception of the law regulating creative property. One of the main causes of this war is that the definition of the word “copyright” is not the same amongst all people. The two sides of the coin are simple: on one side you have those who believe that if you create something of value it should be yours alone to profit from and on the other you have a constitution that can be interpreted otherwise.
First off, I think it is important that the creator of any work of art or science be compensated for their efforts in some way. Piracy in itself has been a huge burden on the music industry and the war on piracy has been fought on new grounds we like to call the internet. According to http://www.riaa.com/physicalpiracy.php?content_selector=piracy-online-scope-of-the-problem, digital music theft caused the music industry’s global market to drop 31 percent from 2004 to 2010. Digital revenues had increased by 1000 percent in the same time frame but that was not able to make up for the amount that was lost. According to http://www.ipi.org/ipi_issues/detail/the-true-cost-of-sound-recording-piracy-to-the-us-economy, piracy even causes $12.5 billion dollars in losses to the economy as well as more than 70,000 lost jobs which amounts to a $2 billion loss in wages for the American workforce. Napster alone is responsible for dropping music sales in the United States from $14.6 billion to $7.0 billion in 2011 which is a whopping 53 percent decrease! So in a nut shell jobs are being destroyed and our economy suffers as a result of all this illegal downloading and sharing of music, movies, etc.
I think most can agree that piracy is wrong and should be illegal but what about when it comes to copyright laws? Article I, section 8, clause 8 of our Constitution states that: “Congress has the power to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries”. It appears to me that the purpose is to progress art and science. Nowhere in that statement does it say anything about making money. Some people don’t interpret it that way; they believe it is the author who should profit from their creations more so than the American people should. I believe what the constitution is really saying is that Congress has the ability to provide, for a limited time, the authors and inventors with exclusive rights to their work in the name of art and science. Protecting the creators is simply the method in which the goal will be reached; not the purpose of the goal. It gives scientists, writers, and artists the incentive to create but not to the point where it compromises the main objective.
May we consider for a moment the man they call “Girl Talk”. If you have not already watched RiP: A Remix Manifesto this week you can find it at http://www.hulu.com/watch/88782/rip-a-remix-manifesto. This is a guy who “combines” songs that are popular and creates something that sounds similar but at the same time, new. Some would consider what he does unethical but what does the law say? According to http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/thr-esq/south-park-wins-lawsuit-what-210849, Viacom was sued for “stealing” a video on Youtube titled “What What (In the Butt)” which was apparently very popular. Viacom had made a parody of this video in one of their South Park episodes which involved a character named Butters playing the role of the Youtube star Samwell. There is no doubt that the video in the South Park episode was clearly influenced by “What What (In The Butt)” so the judge in this case had no choice but to apply the four factor test of “fair use”.
The four factors judges consider are:
- The purpose and character of your use
- The nature of the copyrighted work
- The amount and substantiality of the portion taken
- The effect of the use upon the potential market
It should be noted that a judge has a great amount of freedom when it comes to determining how these factors apply to particular situations on a case-by-case basis. The judge in this case determined that Viacom’s actions did in fact fall under the four factors of “fair use”. The short clip that was taken was not deemed substantial and therefore would not compromise the creator’s ability to profit from the video. The fact that Butters was used in the parody version instead of Samwell was another determining factor because it accomplished transformative use. This is the same kind of transformative use that “Girl Talk” uses when he “remixes” other people’s music.
If you think about it everything to a certain extent is a “remix”. We all are influenced by someone or something and even when we create our influences are unescapably present. The questions I want to leave you all with are as follows:
- Do you believe it is more important for authors to permanently “own” their work or should anything we create be for the betterment of art and learning first and foremost?
- How do you interpret what the constitution says about copyrighting?
- Is it unethical for people like “Girl Talk” to “remix” songs made by other people? Should this be illegal?