Fair Use Battle Heats Up

Posted on 8/22/2007 by Julia Dudnik Stern | Printable Version | Comments (0)

While copyright infringement lawsuits are an ever-present part of the photography business, much recent litigation has been directed at search engines. Content owners, including Viacom, Universal and Perfect 10, are alleging that a number of Web 2.0 companies have committed various offenses, ranging from direct infringement to facilitating content misappropriation by others.

As individual cases unfold in the courts, the Computer and Communications Industry Association is conducting a PR campaign that suggests copyright owners are overstating the meaning of copyright protection. CCIA, whose members include Google, Microsoft and Yahoo, has launched its Defend Fair Use campaign under the slogan, "Stand up for your right to use the content you pay for."

Defend Fair Use supports the recent CCIA complaint to the Federal Trade Commission. The complaint is against Universal and other content owners, which supposedly "have misled consumers for years, often misrepresenting their rights through deceptive and threatening statements."

More recently, CCIA issued a statement characterizing the legal actions of Perfect 10 against several search engines as frivolous. "The infrastructure of the information economy simply will not function properly if Internet companies have to devote unlimited amounts of time to policing other people's copyrights," said CCIA president Ed Black.

Former Corbis CEO Steve Davis evokes the 2004 U.S. presidential elections when he refers to these advocacy efforts as the "Swift Boat" on copyright. He sees CCIA as confusing the debate, using the concept of fair use out of context and undermining both the facts of the law and the creative industry. And he has words for big companies, too. "For billion-dollar corporations to be promoting fair use as a blanket permission for their use," he adds, "stretches the law beyond the giggle test."

Davis is not alone in his criticism.

A number of the stock industry's membership bodies have registered opposition to allegations of over-enforcement of copyright. Leading the group is the newly formed Copyright Alliance, whose membership includes leading photo industry bodies, such as ASMP, ASPP, PACA, PPA and SAA.

Established in May 2007 to promote the value of copyright as an agent for creativity, jobs and growth, the Copyright Alliance strongly disagrees with CCIA. "They are faulting copyright owners who take the time and effort to caution users," said Copyright Alliance executive director Patrick Ross. He adds that CCIA expects copyright owners to act as the user's defense attorney by affirmatively delineating a fair-use legal strategy with every copyright warning.

Both organizations say they exist to educate owners and users of copyrighted works. However, the two sides' opinions differ drastically when it comes to the meaning of fair use and the safe harbor provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Both await the courts' decisions in several currently pending cases in the hopes that these will set new legal precedent.

Copyright © 2007 Julia Dudnik Stern. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz


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