Viacom runs Web video, claims copyright

Nothing demonstrates the ridiculous state of copyright law better than this episode. North Carolina filmmaker Christopher Knight created a commercial as part of a campaign for a seat on a local school board last fall, and posted it on YouTube. Viacom's VH1 cable channel featured the clip — without Knight's permission — on its "Web Junk 2.0" TV series. Knight then posted the VH1 clip on Google's YouTube, only to have Viacom's lawyers demand the video's removal. Let's get this straight: Viacom is asserting that Knight is infringing its copyright by posting a video in which Viacom allegedly infringed on his copyright.

It's silly, of course. But it's not clear that Knight is actually correct. Viacom's lawyers could, conceivably, argue that broadcasting Knight's video for the purpose of commentary is protected by the concept of "fair use" under copyright law. Knight's reposting of the clip, on the other hand, has no "fair use" defense. He wasn't commenting on the video; he was just copying it, clearly without Viacom's permission. The law makes no exception for Knight's circumstances.

Still, the law is the law — and the court of public opinion's quite another. Viacom looks silly in trying to protect its copyright. On Groklaw, Simon Best suggests how Knight could have stayed within the letter of the law — and more properly humiliated Viacom in the process.