At the Brainwash

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4 Responses

  1. Bruce Boyden says:

    Interesting case. I began writing a comment, but it turned into its own blog post: .

  2. Brian Frye says:


    An excellent post. I agree that Pregerson’s treatment of the transformative use element is unconvincing and inconsistent with other cases. And I absolutely agree that judges should be cognizant of the uncertainty introduced by the common law nature of the fair use doctrine. In my experience, it really does have a substantial & pernicious chilling effect on the exercise of fair use.

    Nevertheless, I suspect that, in this case, most judges would ultimately have reached the same result as Pregerson, even if they had engaged in more thorough analysis. Courts seem unreceptive to fair use claims that smack of opportunism & bad faith, both of which Guetta displays in spades. I find that unfortunate, if not necessarily surprising, because I don’t see how either is relevant to most fair use claims.

    I’m intrigued by your observation that “the solution is not as simple as always looking for a more specific purpose. At some level, every defendant’s purpose will be somewhat different than the plaintiff’s; if nothing else, a defendant will always wish to use the plaintiff’s work in a specific way that the plaintiff did not authorize. But that can’t be the optimal categorization of purpose either.”

    It seems to me that there is one use that pretty unproblematically infringes: substitution. But why isn’t a non-substituting use prima facie transformative? And why can’t that be the optimal categorization of purpose? Of course, courts extend copyright protection to cover an increasing swath of derivative works, but it’s not clear to me why. It’s certainly hard to square with an incentive theory. I think it actually reflects a moral sense that justice entitles authors to benefit from derivative works, and that cheaters like Guetta shouldn’t get a free pass. I understand the sentiment, but it seems inconsistent with the justification of copyright. At the very least, it looks a lot like a species of “moral right.”


  3. Bruce Boyden says:

    Thanks Brian, I obviously punted on the whole optimal level of categorization question, but here’s what I had in mind. The perceived value of the transformativeness inquiry is that it’s supposed to do a lot of work in determining fair uses from non-fair-uses. But if all it is is a determination that the defendant’s work is not exactly substitutional–verbatim copies being used for almost exactly the same purpose (e.g., retail sale) as the original–that performs no work at all. A fair use argument for verbatim copies being used for almost exactly the same purpose as the original probably would not even be made, and if it was made, it’s so easy you don’t even need a transformativeness test to get rid of it. Transformativeness is supposed to draw lines closer to the middle of the spectrum, where the issue becomes harder, as I understand it; at least, that is its claim to fame.

    There’s also the well-known problem of the bleed between the first and fourth factors; as I joke to my students, courts emphasize the first factor when they are going to find fair use, and the fourth when they are not. So perhaps the entire doctrine is being bended in service of other goals, although there is some suggestion that courts do this somewhat predictably, which means that it should be possible to identify some standards, at least.

  4. Brian Dupont says:

    I’ve tried to look at the idea of fair use from the point of view of artists, rather than the law, in my own “On Copyright” series (see the 4 most recent posts in the link to my site). My feeling is that if artists put works of art into the culture then they have a corresponding responsibility to that culture. Similarly, if the point of copyright protection is to encourage innovation (in the form of making new works available to the public) then limiting comment and critique of works that have put into the culture represents a form of censorship that runs counter to the reason to have copyright protection in the first place. It is a narrow argument that applies to art as a form of cultural comment,and would not disallow the original artist’s control of their work for licensing fees associated with commercial interests.