Friday, August 07, 2009

Obama's Photo and Fair use of Copyright

Fair-use cases are those which are not the violation of copyright and are exceptions to the infringement of copyright. There is fair use doctrine which is meant for the non commercial use of the copyrighted works. Almost all the Copyright Acts of the various countries have in one or the other form some provisions for fair use. Accordingly Indian Copyright Act 1957 has sec. 52, which provides fair use. US copyright law also provides fair use. But the boundaries of fair use and infringement are very thin and some time it becomes very difficult to decide. Accordingly there is ongoing controversy as J.D. Salinger, Woody Allen and J.K. Rowling have provided over the months on the fair-use front, the following just might take the cake as Best Fair-Use Smackdown Ever.

It hasn’t yet boiled into a lawsuit yet, but it’s got serious potential. At issue: a poster created by folks at the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (aka NORML), which uses a photo of Barack Obama as an undergraduate at Occidental College, circa 1980.




The picture shows Obama puffing on a cigarette (of the tobacco type). People at NORML took the image, dressed it up a little to make it look like Obama’s puffing on some serious Early Pearly Maui (or something), and stuck it on their Summer of Love-inspired promotional poster for their annual conference. The message on the poster: “Yes We Cannabis.”
Lisa Jack, an Obama classmate back at Oxy, was very angery over the picture instead of Obama.
“They do not have my permission,” said Jack, now a psychology professor in Minnesota, to the Post. These photos “are absol. She held that it is not to be used in this way. … I really made a grand effort to do this properly, and I’m very irritated.

Some experts of the IPR didn’t seem it to cause any trouble. “With very little adulteration, experts placed what appears to be a cannabis cigarette” in the Obama’s hand. St. Pierre admits they didn’t get permission, but “our lawyers thought it was adulterated enough to comply with the fair use doctrine.

The standard provided as per the copyright law is is whether there was a “transformative use.” And that doesn’t necessarily mean the image has to be transformed — an image can remain exactly the same and satisfy fair use if the picture is framed in a way that sends a message. Let us wait and watch and see what happens on the issue.