Primetime Terror Fights Another War
Scott McGibbon is Project Specialist at the Lear Center.
Last year the Lear Center invited acclaimed digital remix artist Joe Sabia to produce an entertaining video that would summarize the findings laid out in a Lear Center research report on television's depiction of the "War on Terror."
Joe pored over the results of the study, sifted through 30 episodes from eight top primetime network dramas that depicted the WoT, and ripped hundreds of clips from DVDs to sort and edit into a video narrated by Steve Zirnkilton, the resonant voice behind Law & Order. Joe used all his artistry on the project, looking at the video "as a more succinct alternative recap for ADD audiences...or anyone who doesn't like reading."
The seven-minute video, Primetime Terror, was released in September 2011 and made a splash, including getting a shout out from BoingBoing. Not only did it provide a precis of the findings; it demonstrated that social science research can be conveyed in a compelling, creative format.
And then something unexpected happened: reaction to the video came in an email from Rebecca Tushnet, a DC-based lawyer specializing in intellectual property and first amendment law, and an advocate for the safe harbor provisions for digital artists in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).
Some essential background: The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 made it a crime to break digital locks on DVDs and other online media. This prohibited filmmakers from making fair use of a wealth of current and historical digital material. In July 2010, the United States Copyright Office approved an exemption that allowed filmmakers to break digital locks to extract clips from DVDs and use them in their own projects.
Rebecca was intrigued by Primetime Terror because it was a perfect example of how fair use of copyrighted content can provide educational benefits to society. Joe was ripping DVDs, converting them into digital files a few seconds long, and combining them in a transformative way to create new content. And there was a fight on the horizon: copyright lobbyists were pushing for term limits on the exemptions so that, once they expired, it would again be a crime to break a digital lock.
Rebecca and her team at Organization for Transformative Works (OTW) joined forces with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the USC Intellectual Property and Technology Clinic, headed by USC Law professor Jack Lerner, to draft comments and organize filmmakers. As Lerner noted, "Without this exemption, filmmakers who want to use a movie clip on a DVD can still be sued for going around the locks - even if the use itself is perfectly legal."
In December 2011 the team submitted a proposal to renew and expand the DMCA exemption for Noncommercial Remixers with the United States Copyright Office. The proposal used Primetime Terror as a highlight of its argument, noting that it is "a work that is physically and functionally different from the originals. Some of the