LENZ V. UNIVERSAL MUSIC GROUP A mom in Pennsylvania posted a 29 second video of her 18-month old baby dancing on YouTube. In the background, the inspirational music was Prince’s song, Let’s Go Crazy. Prince’s record label, Universal Music Publishing Group, sent YouTube a cease-and-desist letter. YouTube took the video down and warned mother Stephanie Lenz that further copyright infringements would force the website to cancel her account. Lenz sent a message to YouTube that the video was protected by fair use. Universal had six weeks to respond to this claim. When YouTube did not hear from Universal, the video was reposted to the website.
Lenz submitted a counter-notice and filed a civil lawsuit against Universal with the help of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). In August 2008 a California judge ruled that copyright owners must consider whether their content has been used within the parameters of fair use before issuing a take down notice.
FROM SERIOUS TO ABSURD It is hard to believe that Universal Music Publishing Group was unable to recognize fair use without the assistance of a judge. As David Erikson wrote on his blog, “The ruling is not just a victory for fair use, it’s a victory for society. Fair Use is a principle that is crucial to a healthy democracy.” We also think the video of young Holden is cute and the nature of this case is absurd. So we are contributing more 29-second video clips that get crazy to Prince, in celebration of absurdity. Our videos remix or parody the original video posted by Lenz. This started as a project created for Comm 317: Digital Foundations, but anyone can contribute. The more the merrier - just make sure your video is posted as a video response to the original dancing Holden. If you want to participate, read more on the assignment page.
Without awareness of the Lenz v. Universal case, one wouldn’t suspect that this video represents the challenges to our current copyright laws in regards to the rights of amateurs who create user-generated content for sites such as YouTube. Since fair use cases are evaluated individually, fair use is often seen as a defense rather than a “category of activity that is not infringement in the first place” (Laura A. Heymann, “A Tale of (At Least) Two Authors: Focusing Copyright Law on Process Over Product.” The Journal of Corporation Law, 2009, 6). As Rebecca F. Ganz notes, “The main problem with fair use is that it is currently applied on a case-by-base basis” (“A Portrait of the Artist's Estate as a Copyright Problem.” Loy. L.A. L. Rev. 739, 2008, 5). Ours is a read-write (RW) culture defined by Lawrence Lessig as “one where citizens add to the culture they read by crating and re-creating the culture around them” (Lessig, Remix, NY: Penguin Press 2008, 28). Since communication methods commonly include downloading, editing, recreating, and uploading, Lessig and others call for a reform of copyright law, user end license agreements, and/or the definition of “authorship.”
Cultural production, viewed through the lens of American art history, include practices of collage and juxtaposition as well as “the displacement of folk culure by mas media” (Henry Jenkins, Convergence Culture, NY: New York University Press, 2006, 135). Radical contemporary artists such as photographer and collage artist John Baldessari argue that since images are so similar to words, neither should be owned.