Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video

The Center for Social Media of the School of Communication at American University recently published The American Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video, an important guide for producers of online video who make use of copyrighted materials without specific permission.

YouTube Players Online video has become a vibrant part of our everyday communication landscape and an important component of political discourse. Increasingly, video creation and sharing depend on the ability to use and circulate existing copyrighted work. As more and more video is being shared on the web, financial stakes are raised and the legal status of inserting copyrighted work into new work has become an important issue for online video makers, video hosting providers, and content owners to understand the legal rights of makers of new culture. What some people claim is “piracy” in the online environment might be lawful use protected under the fair-use doctrine of United States copyright law. Mashups, remixes, and parodies are part of an important cultural practice: recycling of old culture to make new, and this process of copying other author’s works is woven into the social bargain at the core of copyright law in the fair use provisions, which are not well understood by most online videomakers. This new document should go a long way in helping to narrow this gap of understanding among online videomakers.

This document provides a long-awaited and much needed code of best practices that will help online videomakers, copyright holders, hosting providers, and other interested parties in developing a better understanding of the copyright doctrine of fair use in the context of online video. Fair use is the right to use copyrighted material without permission or payment under some circumstances. What are these circumstances? Most often it is acceptable when doing a parody, or making a critical comment or appropriate quotation. Many of the uses you see online are acceptable, many are not. This code of best practices does not clearly define the limits of fair use rights (that’s determined by the trends in case law, quite complex), however, it does provide much needed guidance to what are currently acceptable practices and draws upon actual activities of media creators as discussed in the study, Recut, Reframe, Recycle: Quoting Copyrighted Material in User-Generated Video and backed by the judgment of a national panel of experts. It also draws upon the professional judgment and experience of documentary filmmakers, whose own code of best practices has been recognized throughout the film and television businesses and is described in the document, Documentary Filmmakers Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use.