Sunday, December 12, 2010

Copyright cops overreach again

This should be the golden age of public discourse.
With the Internet and new media tools at nearly everyone’s disposal, people are able to report and comment on the actions of government, big business and others in real-time and make an impact.
Take the backlash against the Transportation Security Administration. Security procedures at the nation’s airports have become draconian in the years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Because U.S. government leaders don’t want to offend minority groups by backing common-sense profiling measures, they are treating everyone like suspected criminals at the country’s airports.
Average Americans are fighting back with camcorders and digital cameras showing TSA agents subjecting senior citizens and children to strip searches and invasive pat-downs. They’re writing satirical songs and essays and creating other works that have spread virally on the Internet.
All of which brings me to the case of Iowahawk blogger David Burge and musician Scott Hill of Temecula, Calif.
Burge wrote the lyrics to a funny TSA parody song called “Comply With Me,” which is set to the music of the Frank Sinatra hit “Come Fly With Me.” Hill put the song to music and did a humorous video, which he posted on YouTube.
I enjoyed the video a lot and planned to include it in a list of funny TSA parody videos.
When I watched it again this weekend, the audio was gone.
The YouTube posting now carries a notice about the audio takedown. It reads: “NOTICE: This video contains an audio track that has not been authorized by Warner Chappell. The audio has been disabled.” It then provides a link to YouTube’s copyright rules.
YouTube should not have taken down the audio, because it falls under the “fair use” exemption to copyright law. “Fair use” allows an individual to reproduce a protected work for purposes of comment, criticism, education and parody. This was clearly a work of parody designed to make a statement on the federal government. It’s a transformative, noncommercial adaptation that does not devalue the original song.
I encourage Burge and Hill to appeal YouTube’s audio takedown on those grounds for the sake of all U.S. citizens wanting to express themselves.
I’m sick of all the useless and demeaning security procedures at our nation’s airports. I hate having to take off my shoes for the screening machines and remembering to pack liquids in checked luggage only.
The TSA agents confiscated a sealed $10 bottle of Caribbean hot sauce from my recent trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands and dumped it in the garbage can right in front of me. What a waste. Like so much perfume, shaving cream, soft drinks and baby formula, the TSA is filling our landfills with perfectly good products that aren’t a threat to anyone.
Works of parody like “Comply With Me” can spread feelings of public discontent as much or more than angry letters to your congressman.

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