Course blog for CSP 11 (Fall 2012) @ Occidental College

Tag Archives: copyright law

Our main argument in creating this video is that copyright law prevents the full creative potential of authors, and the digital age allows for these consumers-turned-authors to fight back. Many of the scenes in our video reflect the nature of the Panopticon, in which there is a constant sense of being watched from all angles. Because the copyright law is so strict, and simultaneously vague, people often do not feel comfortable creating his or her own work in fear that it will not fall under fair use and will subsequently lead to a lawsuit. This fear is heightened by the fact that people feel they are under constant surveillance of the media industries, which is exemplified by how often YouTube videos are removed or flagged for infringement.

To illustrate this argument, we began our video with various clips of people creating their own works, whether it music or written material. The first half of the video is filtered in black and white to represent how outdated the media industries’ ideas of copyright is. The second half of the video shows an appearance of color in the clips, which juxtaposes the idea of the first half of the video with the idea that modern digital culture allows for authors to feel a greater confidence in creating their own work. After the first set of clips, we used scenes where the villains are surrounding the protagonist(s). The notion of being surrounded from all sides reflects the idea of the Panopticon, where one never knows whether he or she is being watched or not, but there is always a sense of panic and fear. This set of clips leads into the colored portion, where we turned to scenes of the protagonist(s) fighting back. The last set of clips presents the villains falling to their demises, showing the inevitable fall of the copyright industries and their idea of copyright law, so long as people continue to create work.

The last element of our video is the music. We used the song “United States of Eurasia (+Collateral Damage),” by Muse, which in its original form is directly inspired by the book 1984 by George Orwell. We chose this song because of its lyrics, which discuss so-called “wars [that] can’t be won,” and the desire to rebel against a higher power.


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;.