Report Examines Use of Copyrighted Material in Online Videos, Finds Free Speech Rights Threatened

A new study conducted by the Center for Social Media at American University has found that many online videos use copyrighted material in ways that are likely to be fair use under copyright law, yet these uses are currently threatened by anti-piracy measures online.

The report, "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"), that are eligible for fair use consideration.

The study, a valuable follow up to the Center for Social Media's previous foray into this area entitled a "Documentary Filmmakers’ Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use," examines thousands of videos on 75 online platforms, including,, and The report's authors, Pat Aufderheide and Peter Jaszi, found that the creators of these videos "aren't necessarily stealing" when they use the copyrighted content of others; rather, the are creating "a new commentary on popular culture, and creating a new piece of popular culture."

Unfortunately, this emerging, participatory media culture is at risk, with new industry practices to control piracy. Large content holders such as NBC Universal and Viacom, and online platforms such as MySpace and Veoh are already crafting agreements on removing copyrighted material from the online sites. Legal as well as illegal copying could all too easily disappear. Worse still, a new generation of media makers could grow up with a deformed and truncated notion of their rights as creators.

The report, which recommends the development of a blue-ribbon committee of scholars, creators, and lawyers to develop best-practices principles, is one element 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.

A PDF version of the entire report can be found here.

Update: Mark Glaser interviewed Pat Aufderheide and Peter Jaszi about the report and the Center for Social Media on his MediaShift blog.

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