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MERCURY NEWS COPYRIGHT ARTICLE

Hello friends! I'm quoted in today's San Jose Mercury News article about uploading copyrighted material on the web. It's written by Michael Bazeley, who also wrote about Plain Layne last summer. Here's my bit toward the end:

Artists are generally allowed to reuse portions of copyrighted material under the concept of fair use. But the definition of fair use is vague, at best. Minneapolis documentary filmmaker Chuck Olsen has created a documentary, titled ``Blogumentary,'' about blogs and their effect on politics and media. It is precisely the type of independently produced content that the Ourmedia founders would love to see on their site. But Olsen opted not to upload his film to Ourmedia because it contains some commercial pop music and clips from network news shows. ``To me, it's pretty much clear-cut fair use,'' Olsen said. ``But fair use hasn't really been tested, especially in films. I'm just playing it safe.''

That's me, Chuck "Playin' It Safe" Olsen! I should clarify. When I said it's pretty much clear-cut fair use, I was referring to my usage of Dan Rather news footage — not the pop song. I do waffle on the issue. You legal-types: If I release my film online for free, and it contains about 30 seconds of a Whitney Houston song (the most egregious of my copyright conundrums) - what's the worst that can happen? Cease-and-desist? Gitmo? Watch for further misadventures of Chuck in the media in Wired News and Forbes.com.

Slowing the flow of illicit uploads WEB SITES MAKE COPYRIGHT DATA MORE VULNERABLE By Michael Bazeley Mercury News The recent emergence of Web sites that encourage the public to upload copies of their own video and audio content is highlighting the difficulties of controlling the illicit spread of copyrighted material. The new sites are coming online at a time when technology is making it increasingly easy for ordinary people to copy, record, edit and upload video and audio content to the Web. The latest publicized copyright-related incident came about a week ago, when Google acknowledged that it was forced to take down illegal copies of the Hollywood feature film ``The Matrix Revolutions'' and episodes of ``The Simpsons,'' which had been uploaded to a new Google video search site. At least a dozen other copyrighted files have also been discovered on the site at http://video.google.com/. Google is not alone in facing the issue. Several other new sites -- including Ourmedia.org and the Open Media Network (omn.org) -- encourage users to submit digital media files, unintentionally opening the door to the illicit sharing of copyrighted material. To date, the number of illicit files appearing on the sites has been relatively small, particularly compared with the peer-to-peer file-sharing networks that have incurred the wrath of Hollywood. Ourmedia, a non-profit ``grass-roots media'' Web site, was launched in March, soliciting independently made video, audio and text files. Since the service opened, administrators have seen about four dozen instances in which users uploaded copyrighted material, a fraction of the 14,000 files currently hosted on the site, said Pleasanton's J.D. Lasica, co-founder of Ourmedia. Ourmedia does not screen content before it is uploaded to the site, Lasica said. But volunteer site administrators perform spot-checks ``after the fact.'' The site made it clear from the outset that it would not tolerate uploads of copyrighted material. ``We decided early on, even though we're not technically liable, that we don't want to open the floodgates,'' Lasica said. ``We said, let's focus on `our media,' not `their media.' '' The Digital Millennium Copyright Act puts the onus on Internet users to act responsibly when it comes to copyrighted material -- and for Web sites and Internet service providers to step in when they don't. So Web sites such as Google or Ourmedia are not required to screen content when it is uploaded to their servers. But they must respond quickly when they find out that copyrighted material may have been inappropriately placed on their systems. ``The theory is that there's so much content moving around, it would be unfair to put that burden on an ISP,'' said Catherine Kirkman, a media law expert at the Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati law firm in Palo Alto. ``In general, the legal requirements respect that ISPs can't possibly police everything.'' Google's video search site, launched this year, is a two-headed animal. The site indexes televised content, including programming from the Discovery Channel, CNN and Bay Area news shows. Searchers can access excerpts from transcripts and still images from those shows -- but not video footage, yet. More recently, though, Google began to allow members of the public to upload their own video footage to make it accessible to Internet users. Google says it uses ``both a manual and automated process'' to screen video uploads for ``adult content or obvious copyright violations.'' But the company says its screening process is not bulletproof, and it encourages users to report suspected copyright violations. ``We proactively screen for copyright, which goes beyond the DCMA,'' spokesman Steve Langdon said. That stance so far appears to be enough to appease Hollywood studios, who have made piracy and copyright infringement a top priority in recent years. ``When they find it, they take it right down,'' said a Hollywood movie studio spokesman, who declined to be quoted by name. ``That's all you can ask for.'' Realizing when something violates copyright law is not always clear, however. Some video and audio files combine content such as audio clips or video snippets from a wide variety of sources, some original, some commercial. Artists are generally allowed to reuse portions of copyrighted material under the concept of fair use. But the definition of fair use is vague, at best. Minneapolis documentary filmmaker Chuck Olsen has created a documentary, titled ``Blogumentary,'' about blogs and their effect on politics and media. It is precisely the type of independently produced content that the Ourmedia founders would love to see on their site. But Olsen opted not to upload his film to Ourmedia because it contains some commercial pop music and clips from network news shows. ``To me, it's pretty much clear-cut fair use,'' Olsen said. ``But fair use hasn't really been tested, especially in films. I'm just playing it safe.'' Although Google has apparently become more vigilant about removing obviously copyrighted material, such as full-length films or whole television episodes, its site still hosted short clips from shows such as ``The Simpsons'' as of last week. ``Where things get quite interesting is in these gray areas,'' said John Palfrey, executive director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, ``instances where the rights are not always that clear cut.'' Contact Michael Bazeley at mbazeley@mercurynews.com or (408) 920-5642, and read his blog at www.siliconbeat.com.

July 10, 2005 at 11:27 PM in Blogumentary, Copyright, Videoblogging | Permalink

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Comments

I am shocked to hear you're using a Whitney Houston pop song. Yes, you will be threatened. Why would you possibly need that? Drop it, it's a lot of work to get it in for no obvious benefit.

Posted by: Jason Scott at Jul 13, 2005 1:19:23 AM

Shocked I tell you, SHOCKED!
I'm not convinced I'd be threatened if no money is being made. But I certainly could be.

Obvious benefit? I still need to trade you a Blogumentary DVD for a BBS DVD. The "Whitney Houston moment" is probably one of my favorite in the film... I don't want to say more.

Posted by: Chuck at Jul 13, 2005 3:00:03 AM

First of all, let me apologize like I'm coming out here on the 13th of July like I didn't see you mention this before. Obviously you mentioned it in comments on my weblog in June, and I simply forgot/thought it was a done deal.

First of all, make no mistake, under current draconian copyright law, even if your documentary is "free", it's still a copyright violation. That relative (but not real) loophole was firmly closed in the 1990s. Not profiting from the risk of duplicating material officially makes you dumb AND liable.

As for it being irreplaceable, which it sounds like you've done, I can tell you there are over a dozen times in my documentary when I had my lawyer discuss various works with me, and I pulled away from using materials because of copyright, even if the result would have been great. For example, I have an episode from Law and Order that centers around bulletin boards (not an idealized thing, an actual bulletin board with dialing up and a sysop on trial and everything else). I was going to use footage from "Wargames". I had a Superman computer comic. Tons of stuff. It's all gone.

Instead, I had to either come up with stuff that was differently cool and not in trouble with copyright, or just move on. So I've been there, where you are.

But I am shocked. It's not a "I thought better of you" thing, just a "I figured you'd settled that some time back" thing. I suspect I've been sued more than you have, is what's going on.

Posted by: Jason Scott at Jul 14, 2005 3:47:11 AM

For the sub-par english in the previous comment, I'd like to thank 4:30am, without whom I could not have achieved sounding like a drooling cooked muffin.

Posted by: Jason Scott at Jul 14, 2005 3:49:44 AM

mmmm, muffins!

i hear you loud and clear though. it needs to come out, and as you say replaced with something "differently cool." only about 5 people will ever know the difference. yeah, it's something i should have taken care of some time back.

i went to bed and now i'm up again, so i don't think i should attempt further communication.

Posted by: Chuck at Jul 14, 2005 5:42:35 AM