School Motto: To commit minds to inquiry, hearts to compassion, and lives to the service of humanity.

New Trier High School student Ian Feeney asked Renee Hobbs these questions about copyright and fair use after learning about the topic from his teacher, Spiro Bolos:

1. Your book addressed many things that may discourage teachers who do not fully understand copyright law from claiming fair use. Are these factors the same or different when the general public is considered, rather than teachers?

Fair use supports is an American law that supports all Americans, not just teachers. Creative people in many professions including journalism, film and media also depend on their right to claim fair use. But researchers and teachers have a special interest in fair use because they simply can’t do their job without it. Creative people and members of the general public may also be ignorant of their rights under the law, they may disrespect the law, or have different sorts of fears than teachers do. This is an important topic that researchers should explore.

2. What do you think is the motivation when copyright holders make efforts to stop others from using their intellectual property? (why do they see it as infringement rather than free advertisement?)

Motivation #1: It’s Personal. When you make something, you often don’t like to see other people mess with it—chances are, users will do things with your work that you don’t like. So some part of IP protection is deeply personal. (In Europe, they have a special legal protection for this – because it’s creepy when people use your work in ways that can be disrespectful, ugly, or simply inane.)

Motivation #2. It’s Financial. If you create a licensing scheme where people have to pay to use little bits of your work, that business will return money to you year after year. For example, the song, Happy Birthday to You, which was copyrighted in 1935 and renewed in 1963, now belongs to Warner Communications. It earns about $2 million each year from licensing. Creative people need to make money for their creative work--- they have mortgages to pay and college educations to pay for --- so that’s the motivation to pursue infringement.

3. Given that schools make a point of educating students about their rights, why don’t they also teach about copyright laws?

Most teachers themselves don’t understand the law. But instead of treating this topic as one that can be explored as co-learners, teachers may think they need to have "all the answers." But the topic of copyright law is a terrific one for students and teachers to explore together. Teachers can guide students in their own learning and encourage students to ask questions and get answers from the collective intelligence available through the Internet. That's what you're doing, Ian, by generating this great set of questions and reaching out to get more information and other points of view.Screen_shot_2011-04-21_at_12.35.09_PM.png

4. Are you familiar with Gregg Gillis/Girl Talk? Can he claim fair use because of the degree of transformativeness applied to the copyrighted music he samples?

Absolutely. This kind of art is a good example of transformativeness. The music industry would be crazy to sue him for infringement because this kind of work is accomplishing precisely what the Constitution says is the purpose of copyright law: to promote knowledge, creativity and the spread of innovation.

5. When rap artists sample music for beats and songs, do they tend to claim fair use or pay a licensing fee and why?

Major label rap artists buy licenses. That’s because in the 1980s and 1990s, a couple of judges issued rulings about music sampling that favored the music industry’s claim that even seconds of a musical work represented “the heart of the work.” Many threats of lawsuits led to lucrative financial settlements even before coming before a judge, which encouraged more and more artists to sue. This led hip-hop musicians to decide to buy licenses instead of claim fair use. Then in 2005, in a very controversial case called Bridgeport Music vs. Dimension Films, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals (one level down from the Supreme Court) ruled that even 3 notes of sampling should be handled through a licensing scheme. Bridgeport sued Dimension for using a bit of a Funkadelic song. Even though they looped and manipulated the track, the court still considered it an infringement. Read the decision here. And here’s an interesting, readable summary of the problems with the case here. Most legal scholars recognize that this case is not the “last word” on the subject, since the law is always changing in response to changes in technology and changes in society.