The copyright claim on “Burning Down the House” video is legitimate
posted at 3:35 pm on September 30, 2008 by Ed Morrissey
My friend Danny Glover at Eyeblast notes that music publishers have twice now forced YouTube to remove a 10-minute video that demonstrates the irresponsible nature of Democratic policies in the collapse of the credit markets. I have received a slew of e-mails on the removal of “Burning Down The House”, the video created by The Mouth Peace and embedded here and a number of other blogs. Danny argues that the copyright holders are acting politically:
Warner Music and YouTube also could have a tough time enforcing copyright law in this case because all of the music used in the bailout video is available elsewhere on YouTube. (Follow the links above for examples.)
Another fact worth noting: Edgar Bronfman, the head of Warner Music, is a Democratic campaign contributor. Among other donations, he gave $2,300 to Dodd’s presidential campaign last November, and he contributed to the Democratic campaign committees for both the House and Senate.
A commenter at American Thinker also noted: “YouTube is owned by Google. Warner Music Group is owned by Time Warner. Google and Time Warner are two of [Obama’s] biggest financial contributors.”
I’m less inclined to see this as a copyright infringement. The Mouth Peace tried reposting it with a claim of “safe harbor” because he wouldn’t see any profit from the use of the copyrighted material, but that doesn’t give people leave to reproduce copyrighted material without permission. The property rights of the owner allow him or her to determine the circumstances of publication, not anyone else. Since the entire songs were used in this publication, it doesn’t qualify under “fair use” excerpting either.
Did Time Warner intervene for political reasons? No one can know intent for certain, but there is another reason for them to make the claim — and Danny inadvertently makes the case in the excerpt above. Lack of prior claims on publication can be seen as an acknowledgment that the owner intends for the property to enter the public domain. Copyright holders have to take action to protect their private ownership of their property, or else they can lose the ability to profit from them in the future. That would mean that Time Warner and Universal almost have to assert their ownership, especially when this video has gotten such wide distribution, if they intend to keep “Burning Down the House” out of the public domain.
The obvious solution here is to stop using copyrighted music, or to get the appropriate licensing for it. Maybe that wouldn’t be quite as clever, but the music is the least of the message in this video. The Mouth Peace should redo the video with either public-domain music or licensed music and republish to YouTube. Or better yet, to Eyeblast.