Fair Use in User Generated Content

The Center for Social Media at American University put out a report in January on the concept of “fair use” in user-generated content: “Recut, Reframe, Recycle: Quoting Copyrighted Material in User-Generated Video.

I bookmarked it at the time, downloaded a copy to my “to read” folder (a dangerous thing to have) and then ignored it for the last month or so. You should not do the same. This may be your only chance to explain away the hours you wasted watching dramatic chipmonk videos as “work-related.”

The researchers looked at hundreds of user-generated videos, specifically focusing on those which “incorporate copyrighted works into new creations.”

They analyze the videos in terms of the uses to which the copyrighted material is put, and how those uses related to the “fair use” doctrine with respect to copyright. The types of uses they uncover include:

  • Parody and satire
  • Negative or critical commentary
  • Positive commentary
  • Quoting to trigger discussion
  • Illustration or example
  • Incidental use
  • Personal reportage or diaries
  • Archiving of vulnerable or revealing materials
  • Pastiche or collage

It’s not only perfectly relevant analysis, it’s also a really good catalog of the best of user-generated videos.

My current favorite – too recent for inclusion in the report, but otherwise very much in line with the satire and critical commentary approaches is the Obama-supporting Yes We Can video and the corresponding parody of McCain: Like Hope, But Different.