The internet has fostered a remix culture for my generation – where people make use of existing copyrighted content to produce their own works. From remixes of songs, fan fiction and art of Sherlock, to even mashups of movie trailers – all of them exist because of the ‘fair use’ provision in the American copyright regime.
However, a new report by Georgia Tech – titled Remixers’ Understandings of Fair Use Online – has revealed that the online creators (or “remixers”) may not fully understand the law that protects their use of copyrighted material.
The Georgia Tech report found that the creators’ knowledge of fair use was muddled with misinformation. For instance, online creators believed that non-commercial use was a sole determining factor. However, in reality, monetary gain does not necessarily forbid the fair use of copyrighted material.
Creators also believed that an explicit mention of attribution was a sign to signal they are using it under fair use. This is also wrong – you are not required to attribute the original copyright owner, and it doesn’t guarantee protection. However, it appears that this stems from a community norm to give “credit where credit is due”.
Researchers also found that hardline policies from user-generated websites – like YouTube with it’s “copyright school” – could actually inhibit the creativity of some creators. The report notes that because of the vagueness of the fair use doctrine, it has led to the rise of “unnecessary licensing” – that is, to pay for use of something, even if it is a valid use of the fair use doctrine, to avoid being sued.
“For amateur content creators who would not know how to go through traditional media licensing channels, this same risk aversion might simply chill creative expression instead,” the report notes.
One of the authors – Casey Fiesler – has made the report public on her website so you can all read the full report.