by Rosalyn Hunter
Figure 1 – You Tube blocks and removes uploaded fan video content
We have become accustomed to seeing videos for news, entertainment, and education. The ability to produce visual media will only become more important as time goes on, so how are young people learning how to create informative and effective media? By practicing.
One of the wonderful effects of the Internet is that it has allowed video authors to show their works to others so that they can learn how to become effective editors and directors. The vidders of today will become the media producers of tomorrow.
By showcasing their early works, individuals learn what things work and what don’t. They use these learning experiences to become better technicians and artists. Trial and error, experimentation and original creation lead to new and innovative techniques that inspire not only fan artists, but also legitimate media professionals.
But this avenue of learning is threatened by the suffocating enforcement of copyright laws which are putting a stranglehold on creators so that their work cannot be viewed by others. The blocking of fan videos by content distributors such as You Tube is preventing fan artists from distributing their work, and reducing the learning opportunities for new media editors and producers.
Learning to Vid
The editing techniques used in modern movies and television are always changing. Those who are interested in becoming directors and editors often first try their hand at taking existing works and cutting them down to make new stories, or to showcase parts of the existing work in a new way. These fan-made videos are original creative works created using the established media as a fabric to work from. They serve to advertise the original works while bringing new insights to light.
The ability to copy, modify, and showcase these works is essential for the learning process and when any one of these avenues is blocked, the process of learning is interrupted.
You Tube is a media distribution website that allows individuals to upload videos so that others can see them. As a well known, accessible channel it is favored by video producers as a way to distribute their works. You Tube, however, is very often hostile to producers of derivative works. They have a policy of guilty until proven innocent.
Figure 2 – You Tube copyright notice page
A content claim is enough to have a work blocked or removed. Having claims on an account punishes the content creator denying them services including the ability to upload original works released under Creative Commons licenses!
Even if the artist is using the work for educational or parody purposes, they are forced to prove that they are owners of the copyright of the work before their account will revert to good standing. Since they do not own the copyright of the works, most will not initiate a counter claim even if they have a right to do so under fair use, therefore the accusation alone is usually enough to stop them.
There is virtually no penalty for making content claims, whether justified or not. On the other hand, the penalty for being accused is high and can lead to a complete denial of You Tube services. This cuts off the ability of the creator to get their work seen thus blocking the learning process.
Figure 3 – Those in bad standing are denied the right to use Creative Commons licenses
Who gets Hurt?
Copyright law is supposed to allow a content creator to be able to financially benefit from their work by preventing others from selling their work for money. Fan-made videos do not take money from the original author. They do not claim to be the original work, and often serve as free advertisements for the work.
In fact, most fan videos should be considered fair use under the following criteria. 1. Their purpose is not commercial in nature. 2. They often use only small scenes and images from the work rather than showing the entire work, and 3. They are more likely to increase the audience for the original work than to take away from it.
The transformative nature of the fan videos make them different from the original work even though they use elements from it. The music and images together make a new creation that enhances the world of the original rather than detracting from it. The process of making the video is an integral learning experience for the artist. The feedback that they receive may lead them to continue to work in the field, and in the end will increase the number and quality of media artists available.
But what happens if their trial works are not seen? What happens if their hands get slapped one too many times? They will stop creating. In order to test this process for myself. I decided to see what it would take to become a fan video producer.
My life as a “Vidder”
In order to learn to edit videos, one first needs source material, so I began by using existing videos for a show that I liked, the television show Sherlock.
But video alone isn’t enough. Most people wanted to hear sounds as well, so I picked a song, and cut the video to fit the song. This was a long and involved process that required listening to many songs to find the best fit, rewatching the original work and searching for scenes. It took hours of research as well as training myself how to use editing software. In no way was this simply reposting the original work. Much thought had to go into making the video. It was not simply a restatement of the story, but a new creation.
I posted the work on You Tube and others were able to find it. They gave me comments and encouragement to go on and try again. I had begun the learning process. I was pleased, but this positive experience was not to continue.
My next videos were found to have content matching commercial works, and so they were either blocked worldwide, or removed entirely. This was incredibly discouraging. Something that I had spent days on creating was not allowed to be viewed.
I created a video and posted it as a private work. This work too received a content warning. Others were not able to view and comment on the work. My learning process was stalled.
I was told in one case that I could erase the music and pick a piece from their music library, but the images were integrated with the music. To remove the music would upset the unity of the work so that it would make no sense. The continual barriers and content blockages discouraged future attempts at creation as I knew that any other works that I made would probably also be blocked.
Although I have talked only about You Tube, other content sites have similar rules. It is not simply one individual website, but the entire legal framework that thwarts learning by labeling a transformative video artist as a criminal.
Our current legal climate criminalizes the act of creating videos from existing works, destroying opportunities for learning, and making the future of media production in this country much more barren.