Online Video at Risk of Private Censorship

Article ID: 536570

Released: 2-Jan-2008 1:45 PM EST

Source Newsroom: American University

Newswise — A new, first-of-its-kind study conducted by American University Professors Pat Aufderheide and Peter Jaszi finds that many online videos creatively use copyrighted materials in ways that are eligible for fair use consideration under copyright law; In short, they potentially are using copyrighted material legally.

These uses—an exercise of freedom-of-speech rights—are threatened by anti-piracy measures online. The authors will share their findings during a panel discussion on digital rights management at the 2008 International Consumer Electronics Show Monday, Jan. 7 in Las Vegas, NV.

The study, Recut, Reframe, Recycle: Quoting Copyrighted Material in User-Generated Video(, identifies nine kinds of uses of copyrighted material, ranging from incidental (a video maker's family sings "Happy Birthday" ) to parody (a Christian takeoff on the song "Baby Got Back" ) to pastiche and collage (finger-dancing to "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger" ).

Researchers in AU's Washington College of Law and School of Communication followed thousands of links for videos on 75 online video platforms and discovered nine popular kinds of use (extensive database of examples at

1. Parody and satire: Copyrighted material used in spoofing of popular mass media, celebrities or politicians (Baby Got Book at

2. Negative or critical commentary: Copyrighted material used to communicate a negative message (Metallica Sucks at

3. Positive commentary: Copyrighted material used to communicate a positive message (Steve Irwin Fan Tribute at

4. Quoting to trigger discussion: Copyrighted material used to highlight an issue and prompt public awareness, discourse (Abstinence PSA on at )

5. Illustration or example: Copyrighted material used to support a new idea with pictures and sound (Evolution of Dance at

6. Incidental use: Copyrighted material captured as part of capturing something else(Prisoners Dance to Thriller at

7. Personal reportage/diaries: Copyrighted material incorporated into the chronicling of a personal experience (Me on stage with U2 "¦ AGAIN!!! at

8. Archiving of vulnerable or revealing materials: Copyrighted material that might have a short life on mainstream media due to controversy(Stephen Colbert's Speech at the White House Correspondents' Dinner at

9. Pastiche or collage: Several copyrighted materials incorporated together into a new creation, or in other cases, an imitation of sorts of copyrighted work(Apple Commercial at

"Today, user-generated video accounts for a sizeable portion of all broadband traffic. Some of these videos add value to existing copyrighted material, usually without the copyright owner's consent," Aufderheide said. "This kind of work is the harbinger of an emerging era of participatory popular culture."

"New makers and copyright holders both need to understand and honor the key copyright principle of fair use," said Jaszi. "Owners understandably need to control improper access to their materials. But many common online uses today could comply with fair use as currently understood."

The study is part of a larger participatory media project (, funded by the Ford Foundation as part of the Center For Social Media's Future of Public Media Project. As the report notes, next steps include further research and the convening of a blue-ribbon committee to establish best practices in fair use for online video.

Aufderheide is a professor in American University's School of Communication and the director of AU's Center for Social Media. Jaszi is a professor in American University's Washington College of Law and co-director of the law school's Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property.

About American University's Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property:Through research, scholarship, public events, advocacy, and provision of legal and consulting services, the Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property (PIJIP) promotes public interest approaches in the law governing information protection and dissemination. This study was supported by PIJIP's Fair Use and Public Media project, which works to explain and promote interpretations of copyright, communications and other laws that protect and facilitate the growth of media that help the public come into being through the recognition of common social problems.

About American University's Center for Social Media: American University's Center for Social Media showcases and analyzes strategies to use media as creative tools for public knowledge and action. It focuses on social documentaries for civil society and democracy, and on the public media environment that supports them. The Center is part of AU's School of Communication, a laboratory for professional education, communication research and innovative production across the fields of journalism, film and media arts, and public communication.

About American University:American University is a leader in global education, enrolling a diverse student body from throughout the U.S. and nearly 150 countries. Located in Washington, D.C., the university provides opportunities for academic excellence, public service and internships in the nation's capital and around the world.


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