"Chutzpah" is a Yiddish word meaning "unbelievable gall or audacity". An example of it would be the story of the kid who murders both of his parents, then throws himself on the mercy of the court on the grounds that he’s an orphan.
That's chutzpah. So is this: multimedia giant Viacom is claiming that I have violated their copyright by posting on YouTube a segment from it's VH1 show Web Junk 2.0... which VH1 produced – without permission – from a video that I had originally created.
Viacom used my video without permission on their commercial television show, and now says that I am infringing on THEIR copyright for showing the clip of the work that Viacom made in violation of my own copyright!
The clip in question was pulled by YouTube earlier this morning, at Viacom's insistence.
Last fall, as part of my campaign for Rockingham County Board of Education, I produced three commercials that ran on local television. The first of them – which I simply dubbed "Christopher Knight for School Board TV Commercial #1" – was hosted on YouTube the same evening that the ad started running on WGSR in Reidsville. You can watch it at http://youtube.com/watch?v=nLi5B0Iefsk.
Well, the concept of a candidate for Board of Education pitching himself by using the Death Star to blow up a little red schoolhouse is admittedly unusual. The YouTube clip got around quite a bit: as of this writing it's received over sixty-six thousand views. I put it and the other two ads on YouTube so that I could post them on this blog (because I was trying to chronicle everything that happened during the course of my campaign). And I'd always intended to keep them up after the election too, in case anyone else might find and enjoy watching them. Heck, I've always liked to think that maybe someday, others might see how I was a candidate and feel led to run for office themselves!
A month and a half ago some friends let me know that the cable network VH1 was spotlighting the commercial on their show Web Junk 2.0, in an edition titled "Animals & Other Crap".
VH1 took the video that I had created and hosted on YouTube, and made it into a segment of Web Junk 2.0. Without my originally-created content to work with, VH1 would not have had this segment at all. They based this segment of Web Junk 2.0 entirely on the fruit of my own labor.
I got to catch the episode and was laughing pretty hard not just at host Aries Spears's witty commentary about my commercial, but that VH1 had found the commercial worthy of sharing with such a vast audience.
Please bear in mind that at no time prior to the broadcast of this show was I contacted by VH1 or its parent company Viacom. At this time, I've received no communication from Viacom whatsoever about this.
I was quite aware that they were using my own not-for-profit work for commercial purposes and that they should have contacted me. But I didn't really care that they were doing that, either. It was just nice to see something that I had worked on getting seen and appreciated by a lot more people than what I had intended for a local audience. And I was glad that Melody Hallman Daniel, the voice-over actress in the spot, received some widespread notice of her considerable talent.
I was so proud that my commercial had been highlighted on Web Junk 2.0 that I posted the segment featuring it on YouTube so that I could put it on this blog, just like I'd posted the original commercial.
Did I think about the issue of copyright when I did that? Of course I did! But if this wasn't a matter of Fair Use, then I don't know how anything else would qualify it as such either. I made the original video, VH1 used it without my permission and I didn't particularly have a problem with that. I thought that they would have readily understood that were it not for my creativity and effort, that this edition of Web Junk 2.0 would have had to find some material elsewhere.
And then this morning the following e-mail arrives from YouTube:
Dear Member:So Viacom took a video that I had made for non-profit purposes and without trying to acquire my permission, used it in a for-profit broadcast. And then when I made a YouTube clip of what they did with my material, they charged me with copyright infringement and had YouTube pull the clip.
This is to notify you that we have removed or disabled access to the following material as a result of a third-party notification by Viacom International Inc. claiming that this material is infringing:
Web Junk 2.0 on VH1 features my school board commercial!:
Please Note: Repeat incidents of copyright infringement will result in the deletion of your account and all videos uploaded to that account. In order to avoid future strikes against your account, please delete any videos to which you do not own the rights, and refrain from uploading additional videos that infringe on the copyrights of others. For more information about YouTube's copyright policy, please read the Copyright Tips guide.
If you elect to send us a counter notice, please go to our Help Center to access the instructions.
Please note that under Section 512(f) of the Copyright Act, any person who knowingly materially misrepresents that material or activity was removed or disabled by mistake or misidentification may be subject to liability.
Folks, this is, as we say down here in the south, "bass-ackwards".
I have written to YouTube's division of copyright enforcement, telling them that the VH1 clip is derived from my own work and that I should be entitled to use it as such. So far I haven't heard anything back from them. After reading that last part of the initial e-mail that they sent me, I'm wondering how apt they might be to use the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to wipe out the accounts of anyone who even raises such a fuss about something like this, no matter how well-grounded it is.
What does this mean for independent producers of content, if material they create can be co-opted by a giant corporation without permission or apology or compensation? When in fact, said corporations can take punitive action against you for using material that you created on your own?
That's what's happening to me right now, folks. Viacom is penalizing me for using my own original material, which they used without permission to begin with.
I would really like to fight this as hard as I can. Unfortunately at the moment I lack the time and resources to do this on my own. I am also, admittedly, not an attorney. There's a good bit of knowledge of copyright law floating around in my gray matter, but it's not nearly enough to mount the challenge that I would like to levy against Viacom for doing this.
I want to publicly declare this: that I am not out for any money. Not a single penny. All I want is for the clip to be restored to its original address on YouTube. And I want it to be established that other creators of content have a right under Fair Use to show how their works are being appreciated in the wider world. I just want the rest of us who aren't affiliated with corporate media to have as much right to use our own work as "the big boys" enjoy for theirs.
Any inquiries or suggestions or anything else pertaining to the matter can be directed to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
EDIT 8:22 p.m. EST: Want to see the forbidden video clip of Web Junk 2.0 using my TV commercial? Mash down here, grasshoppah! Special thanks to Richard Moore for hosting it!