Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Copy Wrong

From Threat Level - Wired Blogs
Shepard Fairey, the street artist who created the highly recognized "Hope" image of Barack Obama, filed a preemptive lawsuit claiming he did not violate The Associated Press's intellectual property rights. Fairey acknowledges his drawing was based on an AP photo of Obama before he was elected president.

The AP last week claimed the drawing violated its copyright and demanded an undisclosed amount of compensation. The Los Angeles street artist is claiming a fair use right. His New York federal court lawsuit said he transformed the picture into a "stunning, abstracted and idealized visual image that creates powerful new meaning and conveys a radically different message." The red, white and blue image was adorned on websites, posters, stickers, shirts and buttons.

On Monday, meanwhile, Fairey appeared in a Boston courtroom and pleaded not guilty to accusations he tagged a Massachusetts Turnpike Authority building last month as part of an art project.
I've been having my own issues with copyright laws lately, so I can relate a little bit.

That's me. Or at least that's my left hand. I know this looks peculiar, but if you played electric guitar you'd find it interesting. YouTube told me they took this off their site because I assume Warner Brothers complained that I violated their copyright. YouTube has some links that tell you more about copyright rules and an appeals process of sorts where you tell YouTube you think Warner Brothers is wrong, give YouTube your name, address, e-mail and phone number. Then Warner Brothers has 10 days to say if they feel like taking you to court. As if.

Reading the links I have an argument using two aspects of copyright laws, transformation and educational use. I'm playing over the song for one thing, plus I've slowed it down considerably the first time. Clearly the point of the video is to "educate" someone on where the notes are on the neck and how to play them.

I was in contact with a web site called EFF where I learned about the spat between Warner Brothers and YouTube where some type of black box computer program basically combed all existing YouTube videos for copies of Warners' songs. Unimaginable that they can do that, but it's only computing power; given enough of it you can do anything. The EFF has a bone to pick with corporations who are trampling over "fair use" provisions in the copyright statues. Here Warner Brother is clearly intimidating people out of displaying their own creative work and YouTube, knowing they have millions of possible violations on it's site seems forced to go along. Since it seemed relevant, I e-mailed a guy there about my video and he actually replied:
As someone who used to play guitar in high school, your videos would have been a god-send to me (altho my musical taste left something to be desired back then). I appreciate that you don't want to counter-notice on this one, but let me know if you change your mind.

The hardest thing about your situation is that the labels are licensing songs for use in guitar instructional materials (check out the latest Apple announcements about Garageband's "music lessons", as well as all the "learn guitar" DVDs out there), so they will argue that your use is undermining that existing market for them. It would be very hard to predict how a case would come out, if it ever went to court.

But, as far as I'm concerned, if copyright makes what you're doing an infringement, we've really screwed up our copyright laws.
I think Obama's picture above is clearly transformative, it's damn near iconic by now. Shepard should be able to claim ownership of his work regardless of the fact that he derived it from a photograph. I hope he wins.