When college kids make mashups of Hollywood movies, do they violate the law? Not necessarily, according to a study Peter Jaszi and I completed at American University. In fact, those funny little videos you watch when you’re supposed to be working—if you’ve missed “Dramatic Chipmunk,” the best five seconds on the Internet ever (Yes, Google it now)—are important harbingers of a more participatory media culture. Defending the rights of their creators to use copyrighted material without permission may be defending the future of media for political and social action, as well.
Content providers worried about piracy and theft, like NBC Universal and Viacom, are working out deals with online video providers like Veoh and MySpace, for specialized filters and software to identify copyrighted material. These filters will “take down” videos that are copies of copyrighted material. The trouble is, nobody has figured out how to protect online videos that use copyrighted material under fair use. As Fred von Lohmann, a lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says, it’s like going tuna fishing without a dolphin-safe net.