Actor Charlie Sheen gained significant publicity during his notoriously strange interviews which preceded several run-ins with the law and the fall of the TV show he starred on, “Two and a Half Men.” Excerpts and full-versions of Sheen’s interviews became readily available on the internet and went viral. Amidst the Charlie Sheen mania, YouTube user “schmoyo” remixed video clips of said interviews and appearances and “songified” the content to create the video “Songify This: Winning – a Song by Charlie Sheen” which itself went viral with currently 45,376,081 views on YouTube. After perusing at profile page for “schmoyo,” I learned that the videos are created by the group “The Gregory Brothers” which has gained popularly for creative remixing of regular video into song.  The video remix of Charlie Sheen is clearly a hit, but is it under fair use doctrine in copyright law?

Fair use is a case-by-case decision and the four factors considered in a fair use case are as follows:

(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;

(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;

(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and

(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

Three questions considered when determining fair use in court are, according to Aufderheide and Jaszi:

  • Was the use of the copyrighted material for a different purpose, rather than just reuse for the original purpose and for the same audience? (If so, it probably adds something new to the cultural pool.)
  • Was the amount of material taken appropriate to the purpose of the use? (Can the purpose be clearly articulated? Was the amount taken proportional? Or was it too much?
  • Was it reasonable within the field or discipline it was made in?

Let’s consider the following video:

(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;

  • The purpose and character of the use of the video clips is for entertainment purposes – not commercial use.

(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;

  • The nature of the work is transformative. The remix took clips from several different original video interviews and mashed audio together to create a “song.” The copyrighted work went from being a recording of an interview to becoming lyrics to a song, “sung” by Charlie Sheen.

(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and

  • Almost all of the video is from an interview Sheen had with an ABC news interview, however, there is no longer than 12 seconds of one part of video being used. There is also a part in which “schmoyo” features a member of the group rapping over the background music.

(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

  • There is no direct effect of the use upon the potential market. The “song” is not available for sale and there is no attempt to sell merchandise related to the remix song.

Three questions considered when determining fair use in court are:

Was the use of the copyrighted material for a different purpose, rather than just reuse for the original purpose and for the same audience? (If so, it probably adds something new to the cultural pool.

  • The material is remixed for entertainment purposes. The audience which interested in the original video of the interview may be interested in the remix, but for separate reasons.

Was the amount of material taken appropriate to the purpose of the use? (Can the purpose be clearly articulated? Was the amount taken proportional? Or was it too much?

  • Almost all of the material is derived from video interviews of Sheen with the exception of the rapping bridge. There are at most approximately 12 seconds of continuous video used in the remix.

Was it reasonable within the field or discipline it was made in?

  • The use appears to be quite reasonable.

An additional note is that in the description of the YouTube video, there is proper attribution to the video that was remixed.

After reviewing the four factors of fair use and questions considered in the courtroom, it appears that the remix video is under fair use in US copyright law. Also, after watching/listening to the remix several times, it proves quite catchy.

Works Cited

“17 USC § 107 – Limitations on Exclusive Rights: Fair Use.” Cornell University Law School. Legal Information Institute, n.d. Web. 29 Sept. 2012. <http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/17/107&gt;.

Aufderheide, Patricia, and Peter Jaszi. Reclaiming Fair Use: How to Put Balance Back in Copyright. Chicago: University of Chicago, 2011. Print.

Songify This – Winning – a Song by Charlie Sheen. By Schmoyoho. YouTube. YouTube, 07 Mar. 2011. Web. 30 Sept. 2012. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9QS0q3mGPGg&gt;.

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