A Legal Blog by Aaron | Sanders, PLLC

Are You a Phony if You Parody “Three’s Company”?

Holden Caulfield Watches a 70’s Sitcom. Hilarity Doesn’t Ensue.

If television shows are as influential as most people assume they are, I’m amazed that I wound up a productive member of society. My parents let me watch things that should have scarred any seven-year-old for life: Love Boat, Fantasy Island, That’s Incredible, I, Claudius, Diff’rent Strokes and Three’s Company, among other shows full of sex, violence, bullshit, stereotypes and empty calories

You younguns might not believe this, but there was a time when (1) TV was the primary form of entertainment, (2) you only had a few channels to choose from, and (3) most of it was awful. In the same way an app that costs $1.99 today is better than an Atari 2600 cartridge that cost $19.99, much of quasi-professional YouTube is better than what we had to watch in 1977. I get as nostalgic for my childhood as the next guy, but even I can see my children have it way better.

Three’s Company was a pretty execrable show. The plot (borrowed from a British television show called Man About the House) is about a straight man (an aspiring chef) who must pretend to be gay in order to live…

The three principal characters and two supporting characters. This photograph was taken in 1977 and apparently published without a copyright notice, so there.

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Is it Fair Use? Do the TVEyes Have It?

Do the TVEyes Have It?

Welcome back to another episode of Is it Fair Use?, the fast-paced, brain-teasing game that’s sweeping the nation!

TVEyes charges $500 a month to monitor about 1400 television and radio stations, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for certain keywords and phrases that are important to you. The service is invaluable to anybody that has to keep up-to-date on current events, such as politicians, public-relations firms, the military and law firms. It’s also useful to police and health departments for tracking how well their public messages are getting out: if the police issue an “Amber” alert, they like to know whether the report really is being reported adequately by the local media.

When you log on to your TVEyes account, you’re given a list of all instances where TVEyes detected the keyword or key-phrase. You can drill down on each instance by clicking on it. You’re then presented with a transcript showing the immediate context for the keyword and a thumbnail (if it’s a TV show) of an image of the show. If you click on that, your browser plays a copy of the broadcast, together with a running transcript, starting 14 seconds before the…


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The Long Shadow (Dancer) of Copyright Law

Accidental Infringement in the Real World

Wasn’t I just blogging about how easy it is to accidentally infringe copyright with computers?  Well, reality TV shows and news-shows have the same problem because they record sound and images (which is making a copy) in public, where you wouldn’t expect there to be copyrighted material–except that sometimes there is.

This complaint is a case in point.  The defendants are producers of MTV’s Real World series.  Part of the appeal of shows like this is that the cameras follow the shows‘ protagonists out into public.  Thus, for example, the folks walking around in the background aren’t hired extras but are ordinary folks going about their business.  The producers can only exercise control over the background in the finished product through editing or very careful camerawork.

But what if, in the course of shooting one of these scenes, the cameras record a copyrighted work in the background?  For example, what if the protagonists go to a club and copyrighted music is playing the background?  The recordation could be completely accidental or incidental.  Simply by having the cameras rolling, the producers are making a copy of the song.  If they then include the background music in a…

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