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Why content owners see Fair Use as simply “FU”

by Anthony Bontrager on April 8, 2009

This week the blogosphere was abuzz about announcements by The Associated Press and The Wall Street Journal regarding sites that aggregate their news content without any distribution or syndication agreements.  At 1Cast we won’t distribute one second of video that we don’t have full permission to use. But we compete in a market where millions of hours of unlicensed video are viewed daily, so we’re well-tuned to the issue at hand.

A lot of the aggregation sites defend their services with Fair Use doctrine, an important aspect of the US copyright system that makes possible everything from book reports to Google’s massive web crawler and caching system.  Fair Use is a great thing, but it does not entitle a person to financially benefit from the copyrighted work of another, and that’s important.

A TV show uploaded to YouTube is not Fair Use.  A Ustream channel dedicated to showing out of market sports programming is not Fair Use.  A set top box that siphons content from a broadcaster even when the broadcaster says no is not Fair Use.

It’s fun to root for small companies who are taking on big businesses and trying to provide new services and unique ways to consume content. But it’s simply wrong for the media and the public to ignore the fact that the legal owner of this content has paid in some cases millions of dollars to produce it.  Haven’t these content creators earned the right to control who uses it and how?

There are start up entrepreneurs out there who respect this.  We play by the rules everyday, making partnerships to legally license and distribute content.

I think it’s unfortunate that the media has chosen to lambaste the Associated Press and the Wall Street Journal for their plans to simply enforce the rules.  The Internet may have changed distribution, but it shouldn’t change the rules that let content creators make brilliant work and profit from distributing it.

I applaud content owners who have the courage to stand up and say the rules matter and we’re going to enforce them. It’s time the media and more of the Internet public did the same.

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