Glenn Beck And His Fair Use ProblemOctober 19, 2010
Glenn Beck is a brilliant propagandist. There’s no denying he has mastered every technique passed down from the ages of those who would confuse and mislead the public. From the snide inflections of his voice to the baseless accusations, to just making things up, he is the latest to follow in a long, if disreputable, tradition.
Jonathan McIntosh is a brilliant remix artist. From his web site, www.rebelliouspixels.com, he generates gems like Buffy vs. Edward, which combines two of the well-known vampire worlds of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Twilight, and “So You Think You Can Be President,” a mash-up of “So You Think You Can Dance” with the 2008 presidential debates. McIntosh’s work is notable not only for the imagination to frame his remixes, but also for the painstaking technical work in making certain that the pieces all fit together – the characters appear to be talking to each other, or reacting to each other – seamlessly.
The fates of these two diverse creators of fiction intersect with McIntosh’s newest project, “Right Wing Radio Duck.” Both Beck and McIntosh showcase their talents. Beck throws around his threats, insults and mischaracterizations of McIntosh, Disney and fair use, showing he understands none of them. McIntosh creates a fabulous remix.
Here is how McIntosh describes his video:
“This is a re-imagined Donald Duck cartoon remix constructed from 50 classic Walt Disney cartoons from the 1930s to 1960s. Donald’s life is turned upside-down by the current economic crisis and he finds himself unemployed and falling behind on his house payments. As his frustration turns into despair Donald discovers a seemingly sympathetic voice coming from his radio named Glenn Beck.
“Will Donald’s feelings of disenfranchisement lead him to be persuaded by his radio’s increasingly paranoid and xenophobic rhetoric? Or will our favorite Disney duck decide that this voice is not actually on his side after all? Watch and find out!”
The video premiered at the fabulous Open Video Alliance conference in New York a couple of weeks ago and quickly went viral – so viral, in fact, that Beck himself felt compelled to comment on it during his Oct. 4 radio broadcast.
One could write a book about what Glenn Beck doesn’t know (in fact, someone just did), and of course Jon Stewart did his fabulous take-down of Beck earlier this year. But his response to the McIntosh video is worthy of a close look because in just a few words, Beck shows what he is all about, and that he has no concept of fairness, or of fair use.
In his response, Beck takes a nonsensical shot at McIntosh and at the government:
“If I’m not mistaken, some of these remix videos, it’s very interesting, I believe get federal funding. One of these thing he’s involved in was one of these was the first to receive federal funding to help culture, understand culture. We’re looking into the funding of this gentlemen and the incredible propaganda against me like you’ve never seen using Disney and Disney cartoons.”
He also promises: “And we’ll find out if it’s been federally funded, you know, as part of the stimulus package, or one of those NEA packages the White House is simultaneously involved in and not involved in.”
So it’s a question whether the Obama Administration is out to get him using Federal funding to a remix artist? All the stimulus grants for film given out by the National Endowment for the Arts are online. No remixers here, although it would be nice if some of them got some money. No one from the Beck program has asked McIntosh about it, either. It would be nice to check these things out before making accusations. And even if McIntosh (or any other remixer) received government funds, there’s nothing wrong with that. Certainly McIntosh’s vid about the presidential debates took shots at both candidates. And then there’s the fact that McIntosh notes on his web site that he doesn’t make money from his remixes, and asks for donations. The remixes are a hobby, albeit one that takes a lot of time, energy and talent.
Then Beck takes shots at Disney and at the concept of fair use, not doing justice to either:
“Of course it’s all fair use so they can use Disney. Apparently Disney doesn’t have a problem with Donald Duck cartoons now being remixed and politicized for the progressive left. I know a lot about Walt Disney. I know how much he hated the union bosses because he thought they were communists. I know how much Disney hated the enemies of this country and the constitution, namely, the communists, the socialists, the union organizers, dare I say it, the progressives. But, apparently, they don’t have a problem with this. I guess it’s all fair use.”
The idea that Disney somehow approves of the remix of its work is simply ludicrous. Disney, despite its history of appropriating fairy tales and old books for its animated features, is a copyright maximalist of the first rank.
It’s a standing joke that you know the term of copyright will be extended when the copyright on Mickey Mouse is about to run out. We can thank Disney for the 1998 copyright extension law that tacked another 20 years onto copyright terms that were life of the author plus 50 years, or for corporate works, 75 years just a few years before Disney copyrights were due to expire. Disney even sued a day care center for having its cartoon characters on the center’s walls.
The reason Disney can’t do anything about McIntosh’s is the protection of fair use, a limitation in copyright law that allows reuse of material without permission. The law says fair use of material for “criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.”
In evaluating a fair use claim, a court would take into account factors such as: the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purpose; the nature of the copyrighted work; the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; the effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work.
Fair use has nothing to do with Disney’s politics and everything to do with intellectual creativity and the idea of “the commons” – that some uses of intellectual property belong to everyone, much as natural resources do and that private attempts to lock down culture ultimately harm society as a whole. Scholar David Bollier, a co-founder of Public Knowledge, has released a new video, “This Land Is Our Land: The Fight to Reclaim the Commons,” which sets out quite clearly the threats to the public good from the encroachment of commercial interests. His book, “Brand Name Bullies: The Quest To Own And Control Culture,” has many more horror stories, like music publishers suing Girl Scouts for songs sung around the campfire.
McIntosh with his video featuring Donald Duck and Glenn Beck has clearly created a transformative, non-commercial work that enhances the public culture while not affecting the value of either cartoon character.