Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Tech group defends full fair use

Sarah McBride and Adam Thompson, Google, Others Contest Copyright Warnings, Wall Street Journal, August 1, 2007.  Excerpt:

Diehard baseball fans can recite by heart the familiar copyright warnings that run with every game on television.

Now, a computer-industry trade group is crying foul, saying those warnings and others like it on movies and books are trampling over consumers' rights to fair use of copyrighted content.

Today, the Computer and Communications Industry Association -- a group representing companies including Google Inc., Microsoft Inc. and other technology heavyweights -- plans to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, alleging that several content companies, ranging from sports leagues to movie studios to book publishers, are overstepping bounds with their warnings. The group wants the FTC to investigate and order copyright holders to stop wording warnings in what it sees as a misrepresentative way....

Many warnings "materially misrepresent U.S. copyright law, particularly the fundamental built-in First Amendment accommodations which serve to safeguard the public interest," the complaint alleges. CCIA President Ed Black said the warnings create a "chilling effect," dissuading consumers from using portions of the content in ways that are lawful....

A spokesman for Reed Elsevier PLC's Harcourt Inc., one of the publishers named in the complaint, said he hadn't seen it and declined to comment.

From the CCIA's Defend Fair Use page:

...We filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission in which we asked the governments foremost enforcer of consumer rights to stop big media from making these ridiculous claims....

Their answer? Threats and exaggerations that misrepresent your rights. Your rights include the right to make Fair Use. But some of the Big Content companies don't like the idea that the law limits their control over how you use what you've legally acquired. These companies know that, by law, anyone can quote, excerpt and even copy their works for things like journalism, homework and research and discussion of all sorts.

Big media companies are turning increasingly aggressive in their efforts to discourage people from doing what they have always done with the media they bought and programs they have recorded in their own homes.

Comment:  Kudos to the CCIA.  Content industries have a natural incentive to minimize fair use, but their public warnings cynically and systematically misrepresent the law.  It's about time that they were called on it by another, larger industry.  The job shouldn't be left to consumers, academics, and non-profits.  BTW, universities are often guilty partners of the content industry in this misrepresentation, distributing its propaganda pamphlets on fair use to “educate” students and faculty about the law.

Update. The Library Content Alliance has sent an open letter to the FTC supporting the CCIA complaint and giving its own examples of misleading publisher FUD about fair use for academic publications. (Thanks to Gavin Baker.) Snippet:

The fair use analysis is complex enough without the obfuscation caused by intimidating, inaccurate copyright warnings. We urge the FTC to investigate this matter carefully, and issue appropriate relief along the lines suggested by CCIA.

Update. Library Journal Academic Newswire for August 2, 2007, has a good article on the LCA letter.