Friday, June 17, 2011

IN DEFENSE: Why @Peanutweeter Should Be Considered Fair Use

Hopefully, if you are reading this in the future [i.e., the future BEYOND the present crisis], you are able to visit the website @Peanutweeter to both enjoy the blog as well as get a point of reference for the very 'legalese-heavy' argument below.

If the corporate bully won and @Peanutweeter is now just a distant but fond memory in the ocean of internet memes, know this:

@Peanutweeter was [IS!] an awesome blog combining the work of Charles Schulz with some of the most ridiculous, insane or simply WEIRD Twitter posts out there. In essence, we got a chance to see Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, Snoopy and all the rest of the Peanuts® gang as a collection of crazed Twitterists spouting awesome statements like this:


"i have 300 channels but i still open and close the battery door on the remote to keep myself entertained." - @fiwoproblems


Then, on Friday, June 17th, 2011, Peanuts copyright-holder Iconix Brand Group, Inc. succeeded in convincing Tumblr to remove the blog, claiming it violated the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. WTF Iconix? You own more than a dozen huge brands and have an annual revenue of more than $100 million; your big and brand-tastic, sure, but in this instance, you're WRONG.

So, while commiserating with my fellow Twitterists and @Peanuts fans, I decided to read up on the subject and make myself heard. So, here you have the FIRST POST on a blog I created several years ago [for some obscure emo reason, I'm sure]:

IN DEFENSE: Why @Peanuts Should Be Considered Fair Use

I believe the blog @Peanutweeter, in its use of works by Charles Schulz as the originator of the 'Peanuts®' comic strip and Iconix Brand Group, Inc. as the copyright holder, falls within the accepted parameters of Fair Use given the following considerations based on the four-fold balancing test as outlined in 17 U.S.C. § 107:
  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;

    • @Peanutweeter is a blog composed of Twitter posts and panels from Peanuts comic strips; the website states "@Peanutweeter matches kinda random Twitter posts with somewhat less than random Peanuts® comic strips by Charles Schulz" and further claims "--Peanutweeter is a fair-use work of parody"

    • @Peanutweeter does not sell merchandise, host ads or otherwise engage in 'for profit' or similar commercial activities using the copyrighted work in question; i.e., the creator of @Peanutweeter does not make money from the blog

    • While it may be argued that @Peanutweeter does NOT constitute a 'parody' since it pokes fun at Twitter users more than at the works of Charles Schulz, it is unquestionably 'transformative'. While Peanuts comics are displayed in multi-panel strips, @Peanutweeter is a single panel; while Peanuts characters are distinct creations following a well-defined set of behaviors and a loose chronology of events, @Peanutweeter gives dialogue to these same characters irrespective of personality or timeline

    • More than being technically transformative, it speaks to the transformation of all those who have grown up reading Peanuts: in our youth, we understood and could sympathize with the characters and their travails as adolescents; @Peanutweeter revitalizes these familiar characters in a way that is relevant to readers as adults and as users of the internet as a whole and Twitter in particular

  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
    While Peanuts is a work of fiction created by Charles Schulz, it's widespread popularity and timelessness have made it an indelible icon for several generations. It is impossible to evoke the well-known characters of the Peanuts comic strip without at the very least emulating the drawing style of Shulz; by using actual panels drawn by Schulz, the creator of @Peanutweeter effectively captures his target audience through the works' familiarity and, in this author's opinion, honors Schulz by imbuing the Peanuts character's with new life relevant to the present.

  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and

    • Peanuts ran in syndicated form for more than fifty years and has continued to run in reruns to the present day. From October 2, 1950, to February 13, 2000 [one day after Schulz's death], 17,897 strips were published. The majority of these strips were four-panels long [Sunday strips were longer!]. Doing the math, that's at least 71,588 panels of Peanuts

    • @Peanutweeter uses only one panel of a Peanuts strip per post and is usually posted only once a day. Even if @Peanutweeter began posting two panels per day, it would take more than 196 years [not counting leap years!] to produce the same body of work

    • Professor Robert Thompson of Syracuse University said that Peanuts is "arguably the longest story ever told by one human being"; and that's just the strip-panel comic! None of the above takes into account the television and film productions, theaterical productions, record albums and scores of other appearances of Charlie Brown and his friends. Chuck and Snoopy were even the 'semi-official' mascots of Apollo 10 and Snoopy is still the personal safety mascot of NASA astronauts [recognized by the Silver Snoopy Award]!

    • As clever and entertaining as @Peanutweeter is, it uses only a fraction of the Peanuts body of work and could never hope to achieve it's popularity or longevity [sorry, @Peanutweeter]


  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
    @Peanutweeter does not compete with or detract from the commercial or potential market value of the Peanuts® brand. It is a regular daily blog which pays homage to a universally recognized set of characters and the innocence of youth while providing a humorous form of nostalgia appealing to its targeted audience of adult internet users. If anything, @Peanutweeter is a small boon to the Peanuts gang! This author, for instance, immediately dug out his old books of the collected strips, found his CD of the musical 'You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown' and is already planning the inclusion of Peanuts in the upbringing of his unborn child. It is more than probable that this author is not alone in experiencing a revitalization of interest for Charlie and Sally Brown, Snoopy and his relatives, Linus and Lucy van Pelt and even the Little Red-Haired Girl.


In closing, it is my belief that @Peanutweeter is a sterling example of Fair Use and that Iconix Brand Group, Inc. is unjustified in their claim of copyright infringement. I hope that all those who read this merely do so out of curiosity over this debacle and that in your bright future [present, whatever, stupid temporal references] @Peanutweeter is still going strong and continuing to reacquaint people with the wonderful characters of Charles Schulz.

Thanks for listening.

19 comments:

  1. I see Peanutweeter was fair use. But corporate people are idiots. They always believe everyone is out to steal they're money. Well, Seth Greene got away with his peanuts parodies.. When are these idiots going to slap him upside the head?

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  2. Thanks for such an informative post! I too hope that @Peanutweeter doesn't become just a fond memory. I'm forwarding this to Gara Marinoff; she's the lawyer at Iconix who sent the cease and desist letter. Her email address is GMarinoff@iconixBrand.com if anybody wants to reach out to her.

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  3. copyright is copyright. Just because its been published dosent mean you have the rights to do what you want with it.

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  4. I will keep this in mind and reconsider each & every future purchase of Peanuts-related items in the future for myself, my friends, nieces and nephews, which seem to be sprouting like dandelions in a field of late.

    Take whatever side of the argument that you will, but I see view this as corporate bullying. My perception, my reality, my money.

    Iconix will read my above comment, thump their chests and say, "See! @Peanutweeter is costing us revenue!" Sadly, it is their actions, not yours, that has allowed me think as such. Sadly, they will never understand that. Maybe an eloquent Cory Doctrow essay on it will sway them; certainly my early morning typing will not.

    My father once told me that you can be 100% in the right but still be 100% wrong. Like many of you, I found that @Peanutwitter rekindled a passion for Peanuts for me. That fire is now extinguished through Iconix's actions and my own free will, not @Peanutwitter.

    At the risk of angering Dickens' lawyers, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."

    Best of luck @Peanutwitter!

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  5. Stop saying "should be", and repeat after me. Peanutwitter IS fair use. And, as such, Iconix is infringing his rights, using the DMCA improperly and therefore ILLEGALLY. It's just that Peanutwitter doesn't have the ability to defend itself. He should contact ACLU, EFF and Lawrence Lessig and anyone else who is interested in defending the intellectual property rights of the little guy.

    Peter

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  6. FYI, Tweets have individual URL's

    For example:

    https://twitter.com/#!/FiWoProblems/status/80251519047442433

    I suppose a group of concerned people could restart Peanutweeter, with an array of volunteer copyright lawyers and a organized group of activists at the ready - and take this to court and set a progressive precedent.

    Corporations understand that they can achieve more power by going after folks who won't/can't stand up to their office towers full of lawyers - they thus set precedent in practice (but not in law_ - it's like a psychopath kicking a homeless person, hoping that one day it will be OK to kick pregnant mothers too.

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  7. Charles Schultz created Peanuts from his own life experiences and observations. He didn't lift images from one source and text copy from another and take credit for blending them under his own brand name. "Fair Use" doesn't support the assemblage of this material into a book, either, despite T. Jason Agnello's proposal to publish one. Namecalling artists or corporations defending ownership rights as bullies sounds more steeped in utopianism than any real business experience.

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  8. @open768: Indeed, it does! "Fair Use" isn't just an idea - it's *part of the law*. The question isn't if fair use is fair - it's if this particular use falls under fair use guidelines (I believe it does).

    @Gregory: A work can be derivative and still original - the blog certainly qualifies. A book, sold for profit, would fall outside of "fair use" (IMHO), but the subject of this post and the letter from Iconix is this blog, not some nonexistent book.

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  9. Thank you all for your comments, both for and against. While it is my opinion and belief that @Peanutweeter IS Fair Use [thank you, risser, for strengthening my usage], it is still an opinion that is subjective and open to debate.

    That really is my entire purpose with this post: to voice my opinion and open the field for debate on this subject and to not allow the demise of @Peanutweeter to occur quietly. And there will ALWAYS be debate on any subject concerning copyright laws. 'Copyright is copyright,' as open768 says, is not a true defense of a law. One of the key principles our country was founded upon is the idea that civilizations grow and change and that their laws should grow and change with them.

    I'm not saying we should rewrite copyright law [we don't need another DMCA quite yet], but the INTERPRETATION of such laws is a subject for debate in a free society.

    Again, I appreciate comments both for and against.

    As Evelyn Beatrice Hall once wrote, writing under the pseudonym S. G. Tallentyre in her 1906 biographical book 'The Friends of Voltaire', "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

    Thanks for listening.

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  10. Soooo, Garfield Minus Garfield (http://garfieldminusgarfield.net/) exists and thrives (with advertising), the author Dan Walsh has a book, and is even hosted on Tumblr... but @peanutweeter is not considered Fair Use? That's ten pounds of crap in a five pound bucket.

    I have to wonder what Charles Schulz would think were he still alive. I'd like to think he'd approve.

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  11. Wonderfully put, @peanutweeter. Here's hoping they have a change of heart.

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  12. For those of you pushing the "but it's copyright" and "it's someone else's design", consider Andy Warhol. Consider Scary Movie. Consider 99.9999999999999999% of hip hop / modern R&B music.

    Art is only appreciated within context. Without the shared knowledge of society, the jokes in Scary Movie would fall flat - you need to have seen the films they are making a PARODY of to get the joke. Which means they are copying someone else's work.

    Peanutwitter takes two of society's "greatest hits" and turns them into a new artform. One that takes the pithy childhood of the sixties and electrocharges it with the hipsterbabble of the tweens.

    Peanutwitter is genius. Peanutwitter is fresh. Peanutwitter is art. Peanutwitter is Fair Use.

    Iconix Brand Group, Inc. has obviously acted inappropriately, and hopefully will come to understand that their request was wrongly made. Unless of course they are staffed by lawyers.

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  13. Very well put, @Stephenaxlscott! And thanks @dissipatedfog for the info on the Iconix Brand lawyer and for forward this post to her.

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  14. This reminds me very much of Apple. It is about brand perception control. By having tweets like "someone is chewing with their mouth open and it sounds like an army of vaginas marching through mud" attached to the images, they could claim a degradation of the brand's integrity.

    That is a wild guess based on what Apple's logic has been about several decisions.

    Personally, I think this whole kerfuffle is nonsense. This Peanutweeter is awesome. I laughed harder than I've laughed in years.

    Iconix needs to get over themselves.

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  15. Great post - A clear defense of The content being fair use.

    But will he do something about defending his rights to "Fair Use"? Many times people just role over and play dead rather than defending their rights under "Fair use"!

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  16. Good point about perceived 'brand degradation', @JW. I'm sure that's a point that Iconix lawyers have or will raise. As you point out, it is extremely humorous and therefore falls within the realm of 'parody' in this regard and thus Fair Use.

    And thank you, @T.V. Barnum for perceiving my post as clear. I did try my best to present it objectively and in accordance with the facts that I researched; I'm glad it has come across as such!

    Whether or not Jason of @Peanutweeter defends his rights in this matter, I'll respect his decision either way. You can read what he's currently written about this very issue at his [revitalized] blog, http://peanutweeter.com .

    Jason's recent posts have only raised him in my estimation by taking the high road and not choosing to embroil himself in a battle that would most likely be difficult and, in his case, detrimental to his situation. In his words and actions, I see only a level-headed artist making the best of a bad situation.

    That being said, our country is one in which everyone has a voice and the right to make their voice heard. But the voices that really make the difference are those that have sat for a time in silence, done their research and then spoken with logical conviction with respect for all those involved.

    Jason, @Peanutweeter, I salute you for your exemplary words and behavior. If there is a way to bring @Peanutweeter back, I welcome it and gladly extend my assistance, but whether it returns or not, it lived and was enjoyed and thus has meaning in the world.

    Thank you.

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  17. Yale Law & Tech recently weighed in on the Peanutweeter debate: http://yalelawtech.org/?p=4209

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  18. Quite a lot of Americans are corporate capitalist feudal baron ass-kissing sheep. They only understand as far as "The lord of the manor said this were bad behavior by yond serf. P'raps if I says kill the insolent varlet, I'll be made a bailie some day!" So they trot out their (incorrect) bullying corporate slogans. Remember, corporations became people just this way. They explicitly were not, then in the 1800s a railroad CEO took a job as a supreme court clerk, precisely so he could rewrite court decisions as he saw fit, then hope paid off judges would take his rewritten decisions as case law and invoke stare decisis.

    While Fair Use exists in theory (and it's one of the PRECONDITIONS the State has for OFFERING Copyright protection in the first place, you contract-breaking libertards), it won't exist in practice if people don't fight for it.

    The US already has one party that literally gets all its laws written by corporations and simply rubberstamps them unread. And it's this feudal "the rich man and his company are always RIGHT. Anyone who disagrees is a lazy lying thief who should be flogged!" attitude that's killing us. Killing art, killing music, killing innovation, killing people (the corporations go all over the world trademarking and patenting people's livelihoods and medicines, and leave behind patented crops that kill the local crops, after which they send goons to shake down the villagers for pennies). H. L. Mencken said Americans were a nation of ignorant serfs. All the libertard morons commenting above will see: "Oh my Corporation! He just ripped off H. L. Mencken! Better tell the sherrif!"

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