Viacom includes video footage from an indy filmmaker on one of its TV shows and calls that Fair use. The filmmaker then posts to YouTube a copy of the TV show in which his work appears and Viacom calls that a copyright violation.
Viacom bashers are sure to paint this as the height of hypocrisy, but a review of the situation could be important to Web videographers.
The entertainment conglomerate, which filed a $1 billion lawsuit against YouTube earlier this year for allegedly encouraging copyright violations, says it used only heavily edited snippets of Knight's work as part of a commentary and this qualifies as Fair use. That term describes the part of copyright law which allows the limited use of copyright work for such things as education, research and news reporting.
Viacom's defense isn't new. Scores of people on the Web cite Free use when borrowing copyright work. The novel thing about this case is that when Viacom is usually involved, it's typically in the role of the accuser.
The incident started this way: Chris Knight, the independent filmmaker, wrote on his personal blog Wednesday that he created several promotional videos last fall as part of his campaign to be elected to his local school board. The videos, which show him blowing up a schoolhouse with a Death Star, were later posted to YouTube.
Knight wrote that Viacom poked fun of some of his clips on the VH1 show Web Junk 2.0
"At no time prior to the broadcast of this show was I contacted by VH1 or its parent company Viacom," Knight wrote on his blog. "I've received no communication from Viacom whatsoever about this."
Since his own work was well represented in the clip, Knight believed he had every right to post the Web Junk segment to YouTube. On Wednesday, Knight was notified by YouTube that at Viacom's request, the clip had been removed. Knight was beside himself.
"I made a YouTube clip of what they did with my material," Knight wrote" and they charged me with copyright infringement."
But the case could come down to the way Viacom and Knight used the other's videos. Viacom said it inserted snippets into its show and included commentary. Knight, on the other hand, posted the Web Junk segment in its entirety. The amount of content borrowed by a third party is one of the factors that courts take into consideration to decide Fair use.
However this case ends, Knight's video and Viacom's response could in the future set an important precedent for YouTube videographers accused of infringing copyright.
If someone uses edited clips for commentary, Viacom says they're safe.