Watch My Video, Maybe?

Thanks to fast connections and free sites like YouTube and Vimeo, videos created by anyone can be uploaded and shared with the entire Internet to see. Many creative videos have appeared, but have you seen parodied videos using popular music?

Two examples
The video uses the song, “Call Me Maybe” by Carle Ray Jepson, with footage from the Austin Humane Society.
This video uses the song, “Roar” by Katy Perry, with footage from Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock.

After viewing both videos, I find them cute, fun and inspiring.

But I have to wonder: is this legal?

Many videos have resorted to using specific language in the description, such as “no copyright infringement intended,” “fair use” and “please contact me in case of any license” in an attempt to save themselves from legal action. I’ve even seen users in the comments talk about how fair use applies because the video was put up by a nonprofit (and they’ll cite, incorrectly, Title 17 of the copyright law).

I read through the copyright and fair use documents. Full disclosure: I do not speak legalese nor can I read it and thus I sought out a few sources and I’ve found the answer! It depends.

Gammon & Grange PC states, “The fair use doctrine can be quite unfair because there is never a sure way to determine if a use is actually fair until a judge says it is—generally after much expensive litigation.”

Standford University states: “Fair use involves subjective judgments and are often affected by factors such as a judge or jury’s personal sense of right or wrong.”

I also asked a local legalese interpreter—who is no expert on copyright law or the “fair use” doctrine. The videos could be considered parodies and protected under fair use or not. There is no “nonprofit” exception regarding fair use. The expert suggested taking the conservative route and ask the creators for permission.

The answer isn’t clear, except create parody videos at your own risk, but your organization should consider a few things:

  • What benefit will a parody video have on your organization?
  • Will viewers actually donate upon viewing the parody video?
  • With all the illegal content online, what is the likelihood a copyright holder will go after your organization for its parody video?
  • What is the likelihood a judge/jury will rule in favor of the creator over your organization?
What do you think?
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