Why Lane Hartwell is wrong

by Mathew on December 15, 2007 · 137 comments

According to a piece at Wired, the person who got the “Here Comes Another Bubble” video pulled down from YouTube was photographer Lane Hartwell, who saw one of her images — of Valleywag writer Owen Thomas — pop up in the hilarious video from Richter Scales. Was she flattered? Hardly. She was mad as hell. Ms. Hartwell has apparently had many photos taken and used without permission from her Flickr account, to the point where she has made all her photos private.

In the Wired piece and a previous article on the topic, she says that she contacted the group that made the video to ask them to remove it but got a “cavalier attitude” in response. So she hired a lawyer, who filed a notice with YouTube under the “notice and takedown” provisions of the DMCA, and the video was gone (it initially remained at DailyMotion, but now it’s gone from there too — although it’s still at Metacafe).

In the Wired piece, Ms. Hartwell says that she’s a hard-working photographer, that this is her livelihood, and that people keep taking her photos and using them without attribution. All of of that is totally understandable — but I still think she was wrong to force YouTube to take down the video. Her lawyer says that Richter’s claim the photo is covered by “fair use” provisions is “laughable.” He’s wrong too.

Based on the most recent rulings on the issue, the courts look at four things when they consider copyright infringement and fair use: 1) the “purpose and character” of the infringing material; 2) the nature of the copied material 3) how much of the original work was used and 4) whether the infringement might affect the market for the work. I think it’s pretty obvious that Ms. Hartwell’s claim fails all of these tests.

The Richter Scales video was parody satire — an artistic work of commentary. So it’s covered. The photo was previously published in Wired, so the video is covered. Ms. Hartwell’s shot is on screen for less than a second. Covered. And no reasonable person would conclude that the video would damage the market for her work. Her attitude might, however. Based on her post about why she took her photos off Flickr, I wouldn’t hire her.

In any case, I think Ms. Hartwell needs to remember one thing: copyright law wasn’t designed to give artists or content creators a blunt instrument with which to bash anyone and everyone who uses their work in any form, for any reason. The copyright owner’s views do not trump everything, and never have. A split second view of your photo in a parody video doesn’t — or at least shouldn’t — qualify as infringing use. Period. Mike Arrington has some thoughts here, including some comments from a copyright lawyer.

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