r’s note: Hello Friends! The last few days have been a whirlwind of press releases, camera men and reporters visiting my library to get the skinny on a video made by some of the teens. I thought this story should be told but I asked my friend and co-worker Abbe Klebanoff to share it as it’s really her story to share.
This is a longer post than usual but so worth the read. Also, please watch and share the videos at the end of the posts. Our teens at the library worked really hard on these videos and it makes me so proud that they are doing something constructive and positive.
Ever since my days as a library science student learning about copyright, I have always been a passionate believer in upholding these regulations. In fact, for a class project, our team wrote a copyright rap. I performed it too. Why my professor didn’t give me flack for rapping without a license, I’ll never know.
My teen rolls his eyes when I lecture him on the perils of downloading music from YouTube. When I worked at another library that lent out music CDs, I was notorious for lecturing patrons who thought it was okay to download the music on their computer. I never in my life thought I would be embroiled in a copyright catastrophe. But that’s just what happened.
It all started when the library decided to honor Ronnie Hawkins, a long time library employee who passed away a couple of years ago. We wanted to do something special. Everyone knows I make videos each week for the library. I rather enjoy the process of stitching together footage into a compelling story. Then my director Sandra Giannella spoke about her long held desire to create a video parody of the Michael Jackson song Beat It. She wanted to call it Read It, it was a perfect opportunity to combine both the love of reading and show off what our teens can do!
We watched several parodies that libraries made for YouTube. In fact, there are dozens of similarly themed library videos on YouTube. No problem, right? Wrong!
Soon after our video was posted, YouTube blocked it for copyright content. YouTube has a process in which one can challenge blocked videos. I thought I was safe claiming fair use, but I lost. Damn! How could this happen? Wasn’t this a parody and considered fair use? I didn’t use the music from the album. We just changed the words, which it seems was at issue.
Now, I forgot to mention that this video, took 20 -30 teens six weeks of rehearsals, dedication, enjoyment, teamwork and creativity, to finish. Not to mention hours and hours of my editing and lots of comp time I’ll never collect.
After we showed the video at the Hawkins event, we knew we hat a hit on our hands. The head of our County Library System asked us to post the video on the County Library site! So, after it was blocked, I wondered, should I let it go? Did I violate copyright? Am I wrong? What should I do now?
I reasoned, we are a public library. This is parody. This is fair use. I am right? After all, I reminded myself about all the other library parodies taking up bandwidth on YouTube. And copyright is a very complex issue. I called a couple of copyright lawyers from Philadelphia to render an opinion. I spoke to one expert who said it was a clear case of fair use. We are a non-profit not making a dime off of this. Of course, he would take the case if I had $500 an hour. Money aside, I was relieved to know I was in the right!
It took me two days to figure out that Warner Chappell did not block the video, as stated on the notice. Last August, Warner Chappell sold the Jackson catalog to Sony Music ATV, who holds the copyright on the behalf of the Jackson estate.
Next, I called and emailed Sony, pleading my case, but I lost. They told me I should have asked permission before I even started the video. Damn. Again, doubts were raised about copyright infringement. Now what? Should I just back down? Am I WRONG???? Is this video that important?
My conclusion: Yeah, it is that important. These kids love the library. They are there nearly every afternoon, making friends, doing homework and sometimes, even reading! It’s like a third home to a lot of them. It deserved a proper showing. I made the decision to go to Sony Headquarters and catch the ear of someone, anyone! In the meantime, a friend, Imogen Wirth, offered wonderful advice on propelling this to the public. She was right on the money. We produced a video called Just UN Ban-IT, send out a press release and started a tweet and Facebook campaign. The local newspaper picked up the story and ran a front-page article. That was just the momentum we needed.
Now, I told Rachee that I did not want to speak ill of Sony. I hate conflict, but if its spokesperson says to one more reporter that no one remembers seeing me at its headquarters on Monday, I swear I will go up there and demand to watch the security cameras with him! I spoke to no less than 4 people. I almost cried pleading my case. In the elevator, I spoke to a new employee working in the accounting department. He was sympathetic and took my card and gave me his email address. Do not call me a liar. I am a lot of things, some good, some eh, but I am not a liar. Sorry, just had to get that off my chest!
I left limping away, after no one would speak with me. But this story had legs. It snowballed and other news organizations were interested. Sony allowed the video to be used only on our website. Then, when Good Morning America came to interview us, YouTube unblocked the video. Sony still insists that the video is intended for use only on our website and that the video can be blocked at any time.
In one day the video garnered nearly 700 hits. Our UN Ban-IT will reach 1,000 soon. On a regular basis, I’m lucky if my videos for the library get 50 hits! Something I didn’t count on was monitoring the comments now that the video is “out there” Can I tell you that not everyone is “librarian” nice? Well, its true.
Soon, our small library will go back to a regular routine devoid of the press and spokespeople and again, I’ll reflect on what I did right and what I did wrong. I’ll take additional precautions with my videos too! What are some learned lessons? Well, no more Michael Jackson videos for the kids or me!
But seriously, sometimes you have to stand up for what you think is right. This fight has been likened to David vs. Goliath. I think a lot of the teens will remember this in a positive light and one day down the road realize that they are not powerless. I hope they also remember the message of this video, too – Just Read It!
Sony never explained why they pulled this video, while many other YouTube videos with similar themes and parodies remain on the site. I guess in a way, it doesn’t matter. I’m thrilled. The kids can now freely show this video to their parents—and I can go to bed knowing that our library won this victory.Copyright laws are indeed complex. This is an interesting case and one that I hope will spark debate about copyright and non-profits, specifically libraries that are trying to do good in the face of road blocks from big corporations.