User-Gen Threatened By The Zeal To Protect Copyrights: Report

The increased zeal among copyright holders to clamp down on any hint of piracy by online video sites puts the notion of user-generated content at risk, according to a study from American University’s Center for Social Media.

The center’s 18-page study, Recut, Reframe, Recycle: Quoting Copyrighted Material in User-Generated Video (pdf), posits that the aggressive efforts by companies like Viacom (NYSE: VIA) and NBC Universal (NYSE: GE) to battle infringement fails to make the distinction between what’s legal and what’s not. Apart from potentially banishing much user-gen video from major sites like MySpace and YouTube, the current climate promotes “a deformed and truncated notion” of the rights of amateur videographers. More after the jump.

The study, which examined thousands of online videos across 75 sites, offers general guidelines for what constitutes “fair use” of copyrighted material: parody, negative and positive commentary, discussion-triggers, illustration, diaries, archiving, and pastiche or collage (remixes and mashups). The study’s authors, American University professors Pat Aufderheide and Peter Jaszi, take care to say that merely claiming one of theses categories does not automatically indemnify users. The animating principle behind these practices is whether or not the material taken is somehow “transformative,” the authors say, meaning that the work must add some new value to what they take and use it for a purpose different from the original work.

The two call for the establishment of a committee made up of scholars, legal experts and content producers to codify a list of best practices. In the meantime, the authors have created a blog to move the discussion along. A quick summary of the report is available in the release.

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