Pressure from large media firms on video sharing sites to remove clips containing copyrighted material may be unwarranted, according to new research.
The study is part of a larger endeavour, funded by the Ford Foundation, as part of the Center for Social Media's Future of Public Media project.
It points to a variety of practices such as satire, parody, negative and positive commentary, discussion-triggers, illustration, diaries, archiving and pastiche or collage (under which remixes and mashups would fall), all of which could be legal in some circumstances.
'Fair use' is the aspect of copyright law which permits users, in some situations, to quote copyrighted material without asking permission or paying the owner.
However, in order to fall under the fair use policy, this new content should be 'transformative', and should add value to the original work. It should also be used for a purpose different from the original work.
The report cites the example of producers taking elements from several works, such as The Ten Commandments, Ben-Hur and Ten Things I Hate about You to make a video called 'Ten Things I Hate about Commandments.'
In this example the user is not necessarily stealing, but is 'quoting' in order to make a new commentary on popular culture, and creating a new piece of content which is different from the originals.
Despite these legal fair use allowances, the researchers warn that this emerging participatory media culture is at risk owing to the increase in new industry practices to control piracy.
Many video sharing platforms already craft agreements with large content holders to automatically remove copyrighted material from the sites.
However, the report's authors are concerned that both legal and illegal copying could all too easily disappear.
Furthermore, this could create a generation of media makers with a "deformed and truncated" notion of their rights as creators.
The study recommends the development of a committee of scholars, makers and lawyers to develop a set of best-practice principles, similar to those developed in the Documentary Filmmakers' Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use (PDF).
The report's authors believe that these guidelines could help new creators and online providers decide what is legal, and provide a framework for all stakeholders to ensure that piracy is minimised without affecting creativity.
- Center for Social Media report: Recut, Reframe, Recycle: Quoting Copyrighted Material in User-Generated Video (PDF)
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