“When the history of intellectual property law is written, January 12, 2009 should be marked as a decisive moment. It was the day that my friend, fellow House Next Door contributor and sometime filmmaking partner Kevin B. Lee saw his entire archive of critical video essays deleted by YouTube on grounds that his work violated copyright.”
That’s the opening paragraph of Matt Zoller Seitz’s outstanding post at The House Next Door on Tuesday. On Monday, astute critic Kevin B. Lee of Shooting Down Pictures had his entire YouTube account deleted, along with the hundreds of critical video essays hosted there, due to claims of copyright violation.
I won’t go into all the details because Matt does an excellent job of outlining both the contributions Kevin has made to film criticism via his video essays and the need for a distinction between fair use and copyright violation. I won’t claim to have always been on the right side of copyright law, but the sorts of things that Kevin and Matt (and Jonathan Lapper, and Jim Emerson, and others) are doing with copyrighted content clearly fall into the category of fair use quotation for critical and educational purposes.
Apparently, YouTube is now using digital watermarking to remove copyrighted videos (and audio tracks now, too) without any means of checking whether it’s a legitimate use of the material under fair use or a true copyright violation. Granted, YouTube is ginormous enough that such checking is probably logistically impossible. But cases like Kevin’s need to have attention brought to them, need to be talked about and discussed, and we need to come to some better formulation of copyright law that better defines and protects fair use.
To close back with Matt again:
“I fervently hope some brave, knowledgeable lawyer will see that there’s more at stake here than the ethics of ripping and posting scenes from movies, and make a test case of Kevin’s unconscionable treatment. The circumstances may seem mundane, but the implications are grim as can be. When individuals and governments permit corporations to dictate the terms by which their culture may be examined, the First Amendment becomes just another pile of words.” [my emphasis]