Viacom luvs them some Reality TV Programming because it tends to be cheap as hell to make in part because it’s often composed of work generated by someone else. A good example of this is their VH1 show Web Junk 2.0 which is composed entirely of viral video clips that have been making the rounds on the Internet. You’d think a company like Viacom that is often involved in copyright disputes would go out of its way to get permission for any of the material they use in their shows, but it appears they don’t bother as one gentleman by the name of Chris Knight can attest to:
Last fall, as part of my campaign for Rockingham County Board of Education, I produced three commercials that ran on local television. The first of them – which I simply dubbed “Christopher Knight for School Board TV Commercial #1” – was hosted on YouTube the same evening that the ad started running on WGSR in Reidsville. You can watch it at http://youtube.com/watch?v=nLi5B0Iefsk.
A month and a half ago some friends let me know that the cable network VH1 was spotlighting the commercial on their show Web Junk 2.0, in an edition titled “Animals & Other Crap”.
VH1 took the video that I had created and hosted on YouTube, and made it into a segment of Web Junk 2.0. Without my originally-created content to work with, VH1 would not have had this segment at all. They based this segment of Web Junk 2.0 entirely on the fruit of my own labor.
Chris thought that was pretty cool even though he was never contacted by the producers of Web Junk 2.0 or anyone else connected to Viacom about getting permission from him to use the clip. Chris thought the segment was pretty funny and wanted to share it with his blog readers so he snipped out the segment dealing with his video and posted it to YouTube so he could share it on his blog.
You know what happened next, right? Of course you do.
Viacom hit YouTube with a DMCA take down notice claiming that Chris Knight had violated their copyright by posting the video clip even though it consisted mostly of Chris’ original material which Viacom infringed upon themselves.
So Viacom took a video that I had made for non-profit purposes and without trying to acquire my permission, used it in a for-profit broadcast. And then when I made a YouTube clip of what they did with my material, they charged me with copyright infringement and had YouTube pull the clip.
Folks, this is, as we say down here in the south, “bass-ackwards”.
I have written to YouTube’s division of copyright enforcement, telling them that the VH1 clip is derived from my own work and that I should be entitled to use it as such. So far I haven’t heard anything back from them. After reading that last part of the initial e-mail that they sent me, I’m wondering how apt they might be to use the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to wipe out the accounts of anyone who even raises such a fuss about something like this, no matter how well-grounded it is.
What does this mean for independent producers of content, if material they create can be co-opted by a giant corporation without permission or apology or compensation? When in fact, said corporations can take punitive action against you for using material that you created on your own?
That’s what’s happening to me right now, folks. Viacom is penalizing me for using my own original material, which they used without permission to begin with.
It’s worth pointing out that Chris’ clip was only a small segment of the show and not the entirety of the show, that the clip was not being used in a commercial endeavor, and was being used as part of a commentary on the show itself (even if that commentary was simply “Look! I’m on TV!”) and as such qualifies as a prime example of Fair Use. Thanks to the DMCA though all Viacom has to do is send a nastygram to YouTube and they clip has to be yanked by law.
I would really like to fight this as hard as I can. Unfortunately at the moment I lack the time and resources to do this on my own. I am also, admittedly, not an attorney. There’s a good bit of knowledge of copyright law floating around in my gray matter, but it’s not nearly enough to mount the challenge that I would like to levy against Viacom for doing this.
I want to publicly declare this: that I am not out for any money. Not a single penny. All I want is for the clip to be restored to its original address on YouTube. And I want it to be established that other creators of content have a right under Fair Use to show how their works are being appreciated in the wider world. I just want the rest of us who aren’t affiliated with corporate media to have as much right to use our own work as “the big boys” enjoy for theirs.
Any inquiries or suggestions or anything else pertaining to the matter can be directed to me at .
Personally I think it would be great if Chris was able to sue the living shit out of Viacom for their infringement of his original work just to teach those bastards a bit of a lesson, but the resources that would take are probably well beyond his means. Instead the best we can hope for is to make sure our Congressmen get the message that the DMCA is bullshit that needs to be revoked due to abuses such as this one that we keep hearing about time and time again.