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SXSW notebook: Panelists, audience have fun debating fair use

Publication Date: 
March 20, 2009
Los Angeles Times
David Sarno

The Los Angeles Times reports that Associate Director of the Fair Use Project Julie Ahrens was a member of a panel debating Fair Use at the SXSW conference this week. The panelists argued standard positions of the subject after a presentation of a specific video clip. After each argument members of the audience voted on how they assessed fair use. Julie Ahrens position is quoted below:

Ahrens commenting on a Presidential campaign clip: One of the key parts of why we have fair use, and the reason why it's important that it's a robust doctrine, is that it's a protection of your First Amendment right and free speech. This is clearly political speech. We have video clips of the presidential candidates. The fact that the debates are shown on national networks does not give the networks the right to own and control what we say about our own politicians and the view that they take. This particular video is very clearly a fair use considering the point of the video is to criticize both candidates for having talking points that they stick to.... This is demonstrating why people tune out on debates. That is something you cannot do as effectively without using the video clips.


Ahrens commenting on a clip on films of Stanley Kubrick: If there's one thing I can hope to dispel through this panel, it's the idea that fair use is limited to commentary and criticism. It is not. The Supreme Court has made clear that fair use at its heart protects transformative works: works that add new meaning, message or a different purpose than the original. You would not watch this video rather than watch [the original films]. What this creator has done is to create a new work that is much like an essay, but a visual essay using the different clips to draw together the themes of Kubrick's films. There's definitely a thread of how these films use similar ideas, or how Kubrick is a sadistic guy, and those are themes that are coming out through this montage. And what's important is to protect people who have a new way of communicating what the films are about.


Ahrens on a clip of a remix of songs: Again, the common theme: This is clearly a transformative use. It doesn't substitute for the original. You can't watch this guy's video instead of buying all these different tracks. In fact, it may cause people to go, "Oh, I love that song, I need that." But this is the way that we express ourselves in today's culture, with our newest technology and the ability to share this video. And this guy is demonstrating the impact music has on everyone -- that it moves you, it makes you want to dance, that it has an emotional element. His ability to show that should not be hampered by the Copyright Act -- especially because I cannot imagine this has any negative impact on the market for those songs.