Where Will the Purple Rain Fall?

Prince 2

By Kelsey O’Neal

Prince will remain one of the greatest musicians in American history; he prolifically produced music since 1978 and sold approximately 36 million albums. He was also one of a few musicians who owned his own master recordings. This ownership did not come easily, but resulted from a copyright war he engaged in with Warner Bros in the 1990’s. As a form of protest against the recording company and to gain control of his masters from the recording studio, the artist changed his name to an unpronounceable “Love Symbol” and even appeared on stage with the word “slave” emblazoned on his forehead. His battle with Warner stemmed, mostly, from his desire to release more music than the label was willing to sponsor.

More recently, Prince struggled with how easily consumers could access his music in the digital era. Many recall that he sued a woman for posting a video of her daughter dancing to “Let’s Go Crazy,” one of his iconic pop songs, on YouTube. Prince sent a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notice to YouTube, which led the woman to sue, claiming her upload constituted fair use of the song. Continue reading

Using the Crying Michael Jordan Meme: Playful Troll or Inevitable Lawsuit?

mj memeBy Yayi Ding

The Crying Michael Jordan Meme has struck again! However, this time it has struck at the expense of Jordan’s own alma mater, the University of North Carolina (UNC). Earlier this month, the annual NCAA championship game ended in a dramatic fashion, as Villanova hit a buzzer-beating shot to end UNC’s title hopes. And almost immediately, the internet responded, with none other than the wildly popular Crying Michael Jordan Meme. The Crying Michael Jordan Meme has become an internet sensation in recent years, but can its use ever lead to legal troubles? Continue reading

YouTube Remixers & Small Statutory Offenders in Focus

YOUTUBER_ICONBy Andrew H. Fuller

There is little doubt that YouTube content creators have been causing waves in the copyright world since its inception. For example, in 2009, YouTube started to mute the audio tracks of any videos or streams posted by users that contained unauthorized copyrighted music. Another common and popular genre of YouTube content is remixes, where YouTube artists create content by altering and sampling from existing, copyright protected content. Most YouTube content creators are unaware and unconcerned about copyright laws or infringement claims until YouTube cracks down on them. Those who are vaguely familiar often assume that their use is within the bounds of Copyright’s Fair Use exception. Given the general (mis)understanding around Fair Use and the courts’ treatment and application of this exception, the Lanham Act would seem ripe for an update. While the technological landscape of media dissemination and user consumption has radically shifted, the laws around copyright haven’t changed. Continue reading

A Step Toward Protecting Fair Use on YouTube

h13tuhz14ceqcmsazeb5By Juliya Ziskina

Since its beginning, YouTube has been involved in battles over copyright infringement, and over the years, YouTube has increased its policing of pirated material. The most common cases of copyright infringement involve using songs in a film or video without permission of the copyright holder, or placing segments of movies or music videos on websites where it is easy for the public to download them. Therefore, the giants of the entertainment industry have begun cracking down on websites such as YouTube.

YouTube, in response to these accusations, started to remove videos that may use segments of music or film without the copyright owner’s permission. Fan videos that incorporate a celebrity picture slideshow using a song as the primary audio track and videos of musicians playing covers of famous songs are common examples of videos that have been deleted from YouTube as a result of alleged copyright infringement. However, a widely known example of proper fair use is, for instance, a segment by the TV host Stephen Colbert that rebroadcasts cable news clips for the comedian to react to. Continue reading

Copyright Infringement: Background Music Embedded in Popular YouTube Videos

Psy-hits-1-billion-views-on-youtube-with-gangnam-styleBy Chike Eze

Gone are the days when only major studios had a monopoly on manufacturing “celebrities.” YouTube has ushered in a new category – the self-made “celebrity YouTuber.” Michelle Phan is an extremely popular YouTuber who is well known for her entertaining videos on how to put on different types of makeup. She currently has more than eight million subscribers, and her popular “Barbie Transformation Tutorial” video has over sixty million views. A far cry from Gangnam’s two billion views, but impressive nonetheless. Ms. Phan generates revenue by monetizing her videos and endorsing various products in her videos. And just like other famous YouTubers, she uses popular copyrighted songs as background music in her videos that are distributed to millions via YouTube.

In July 2014, Ultra Records, LLC (“Ultra”) brought a copyright infringement suit against Ms. Phan in the U.S. District Court, Central District of California. Ultra alleged that Ms. Phan had engaged in a “wholesale infringement” of Ultra’s musical compositions and recordings, citing 50 instances of Ms. Phan’s direct copyright infringement. Ultra further stated that Ms. Phan had profited from using its artists’ tracks and compilations. Consequently, Ultra sought $150,000 in statutory damages for each instance of copyright infringement, and demanded an injunction against Ms. Phan’s continued use of its copyrighted material. Continue reading