Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Copyright implications of "Citizen Created Commercials"

AquaDad inspired another post with his question about Citizen Created Commercials (CCC).

Said AquaDad: What are the copyright ramifications when doing a Citizen Created Commercial (CCC)? And, will Revver allow it?

Nalts is no attorney, but his dad and brother are so that counts. I suppose I would argue that viral commercials are usually welcomed by brands and companies, and would likely be safe even if a company might have ground for legal action. Why take the public-relations risk of looking aggressive and paranoid over something that is effectively free promotion? The new world of "citizen journalists" (like this blog) would work to bring attention to petty acts like that. It's petty... like when Disney -- one of the most vigilant copyright protectors -- takes action when it happens to have dozens of movies based on royalty free characters (Little Mermaid, Pinocchio, Aladin, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, etc).

"Citizen created commercials" that are not as favorable (maybe sacrcastic or inflamatory) are a different case. I'd expect a company to take action against those, even if the creator might be afforded some legal protection under "fair use" laws for parodies.

The Copyright Act in Section 107 enumerates four "fair use factors" that must be analyzed to determine whether a particular use of a copyrighted work, such as a parody, is fair use. These factors are the (1) purpose and character of the use, including whether the use is commercially motivated or instead is for nonprofit educational purposes; (2) nature of the copyrighted work; (3) amount and substantiality of the portion used in the newly created work in relation to the copyrighted work; and (4) effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work (Source:

Saturday Night Live (NBC)is a good case study of the distinction between parody and copyright infringmenet. As we all know, SNL is known to take extreme liberties in the area of parody. Remember Swiffer Sleeper? And SNL constantly uses copyrighted audio for its cartoon parodies. But NBC has a different opinion about use of its copyrighted material. The New York Times wrote an article about the strong stance SNL took against YouTube when the Lazy Sunday clip went crazy viral. You can buy the video on iTunes or see it for free on (good luck finding it).

P.S. I'm going to try to convince my cousin from Washington, D.C. (who does copyright law) to post a comment on this).


At 3/29/2006 1:41 PM, Anonymous AquaDad said...

Thank you for advancing the issue further.

I'll be curious to hear what your cousin says or even what NBC says.

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