Opinion: Copyright law needs to be strong — so does fair use protection for content users

YouTube's homepage in March 2010.
(Richard Vogel / Associated Press)

To the editor: Copyright law needs to be fixed and changed, but Jonathan Taplin’s proposal would erode the essential function of fair use in the copyright system. (“The tech industry is eroding copyright law. Here’s how to stop it,” Opinion, May 10)

Taplin argues that the “takedown” system when applied to online music is flawed, and he urges codification of long “accepted practice” that a music clip “cannot exceed 30 seconds and that it must be quoted in a ‘transformative’ work, such as a remix, a mashup or a hip-hop sample.”

Congress and the courts have resisted exactly such rigid definitions of fair use. Flexibility is necessary so fair use can sanction non-transformative activities, and even uses of entire works, when justified for news reporting, education, technological innovation, and personal enjoyment.


Copyright protection is important, but fair use and other statutory exceptions are equally critical to an effective law. Taplin’s suggestion would lock in an exact measure of fair use and undercut its value for the promotion of new creativity.

Kenneth D. Crews, Los Angeles

The writer is an attorney and a professor who specializes in copyright law.


To the editor: I applaud Taplin for wanting a clear definition of what is termed “fair use.”

I know of several YouTube channels whose curators would appreciate a firm definition so their videos are not taken down by an automated copyright claim system that pervades the site. Just searching “YouTube copyright claim” on the site will bring up many videos of content creators asking YouTube for clear, unambiguous language regarding fair use.

And while we’re on the subject, I too would like copyright law to stop becoming eroded, namely from companies that do not wish for their beloved icons to enter the public domain. If Disney can rewrite the copyright laws to keep Mickey Mouse out of the public domain for more than 80 years, then fair use can be expanded past the traditional 30 seconds in a “transformative” manner.

Andrew Green, San Juan Capistrano


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