CT&D #76. Beebe vs. Rauschenberg: Copyrights and Fair Use

Case Source: https://www.mortonbeebe.com/beebe-v-rauschenberg-and-artists-rights/ 

After reading and learning about the 1977 Beebe vs. Rauschenberg case concerning the ethics of using unauthorized material from a photographer’s work, seemingly for a compilation piece produced by an artist, my understanding of where artist Rauchenberg’s belief regarding “his” work (while not 100% original or genuine itself) is that it could be still looked at as a “new” artistic concept given the creative difference in composing a specific photo from its original form produced by Beebe. Also considering the fact that Rauschenberg’s piece incorporates other images in print (which in addition may or may not be his), I get the sense that the piece was supposed to represent an amalgamation of art capturing the lifestyle of the time period or zeitgeist of the 1970s.

Despite Rauschenberg’s intent to use his work to pay homage to other creative minds (that’s what I am deducing anyway), Beebe considered him taking his photo without permission to be infringing on his intellectual property. This is problematic because it could lead to two things: confusion over who actually created the image and money being given to someone who’s work had to come from somebody else. If I was in Beebe’s shoes, I would not be too happy about that given that a career defines a lot of things for a person and it would be unjust if the success of one’s accomplishments transfers to another individual all due to a missing name credit.

Being a creatively minded person and a student of digital media, I am always aware of the ever perennial issue of copyrights, crediting, fair use and plagiarism. We even learn this from grade school: copying is cheating. It doesn’t represent integrity, neither academically nor legally. As such, my opinion has, still and always will be that artists and creators should be credited for their work, even if said work is not being used to make a profit on by another individual, organization, etc. For example, the ever popular video sharing site YouTube is a hotbed for online creators and producers to review the works of film, TV and video games where the premise of having to show excerpts of these media types is crucial to educate an audience. This is okay because the intent is to credit and bring awareness to the efforts of works that other people made and offer praise and criticism directed towards them for scholarly and / or entertainment purposes.

Laws governing ownership of property in the media landscape is often complicated to understand the limits of but this infographic categorizes types of scenarios when material can and cannot be used.

Where it is wrong is when an online producer creates a video mashup of which its sources come from various TV shows, films and / or games, even to the point where the edit makes it seem that the resulting product has a different plot, changed characterizations and a different tone (for the point of delivering comedy, absurdism, and parody to audiences). In these cases, I’ve personally seen many of these mashups being taken down because many producers claim the sources that made up these videos as theirs without crediting the proper productions they originate from (hence committing copyright infringement). It’s kind of like in Rauschenberg’s case: inspired to create but forgetful of the act of owning that one commits outright of someone else’s work, even in a minor instance of material usage.

In my opinion, I see this issue growing more and more as we progress into the future of digital media, and dare I say, media in general. It’s so easy for anyone to create videos, even to create musical remixes and “photochops” (a mashup of graphics and photos coming from a number of sources usually for meme or absurdist purposes) without giving credit. Then again, if an arrangement can be made with an original creator on repurposing or reusing material for some kind of a pastiche with compensation to that creator, a credit still is necessary as whatever new attention or infamy that a work will bring to a component that made up a part of it will rightfully go to them.

A famous example I can name that fits this scenario is a musical artist named “Weird” Al Yankovic who records song parodies. These parodies use the same music but different lyrics of the original source material done in part by an original artist and the production people behind the song. And even though Yankovic writes his own lyrics, he still would need permission from artists to parody their works as he did not come up with their original music. Yankovic is mostly protected by law from being sued by any musician that he can use works for because he specializes in parodies but still needs to negotiate royalties since there is legal ownership to the source material that is being ultimately used.

Weird “Al” Yankovic, singer and songwriter most famously in satire and parody.

But even with understanding the point of copyright law, I am very critical of those who want to vehemently protect their rights, often at the expense of dealing with an abuse / overreach of power because again with YouTube, I’ve learned of cases where even if one DOES credits their work, the “infringing” videos still go down. Some corporate-based companies like Viacom are relentless with handing out takedown notices on YouTube channels because in their minds, the website encourages viewer traffic to go toward free online watching than onto your TV or buying DVDs of their shows the proper way. I understand their reasoning financially if one was to look at it that way as uploading recordings can be very damaging to a company’s sales of media but it shouldn’t necessarily mean to punish those who promote their content and credit them properly. That’s like saying having a works cited or bibliography isn’t good enough.

At least Beebe was willing to accept Rauschenberg’s work when his name was given a co-credit as it should’ve been in the first place (well and also after suing and settling). Why can’t simple crediting be the utmost norm, plain and simple to combat issues like these? At least this would effectively bring awareness of who or what entity created a work shown through the (digital) media landscape to a larger audience, be it a readership or viewership; this results from the promoting or paying homage of said work, where these acts themselves usually do not carry any malicious intention aside from sole profiting off of another’s person’s work.

Additional Reading:

http://greg.org/archive/2012/07/03/beebe_v_rauschenberg_declaring_victory.html (a separate article on the same topic, but mentions “fair use, legit representation, or rip-off?” when addressing Rauschenberg’s work)

http://online.wsj.com/public/resources/documents/ViacomYouTubeComplaint3-12-07.pdf (Viacom vs. YouTube case)

Spread the good word and contribute to the community!

Facebook Comments

Recommended Articles