Filmmaker Michael Moore calls himself a staunch defender of the little guy, except maybe when that little guy has some content he wants to use and he doesn't want to pay for it.
The filmmaker is stirring up a controversy of his own after he lifted an entire copyrighted news story and its accompanying video from the "Knoxville News Sentinel" website and re-posted it on MichaelMoore.com without the site’s permission.
On July 5, the "Knoxville News Sentinel" posted a story and a video from reporter Frank Munger and photographer Michael Patrick about peace protesters at the Department of Energy's nuclear weapons facilities in Oak Ridge, Tenn. Patrick shot several photos that were used in a photo gallery.
Days later, the entire story was re-purposed on Michael Moore’s website along with the photo gallery and video. The site linked back to the "Knoxville News," but removed all credit from the photographs. Moore also reprocessed the video to remove the website's branding.
“I noticed they had not only taken our video but they edited it a little bit and took off our Knox News logo and uploaded it to their YouTube channel and I e-mailed Michael Moore’s website administrator and told them they were using our photos,” Knoxville News Director of Innovation Jack Lail told Fox411. “I also filed a takedown request on YouTube and by the next afternoon YouTube had it removed. I never heard anything from Moore’s site.”
But someone at MichaelMoore.com must have at least read Lail’s message, since the story and video were, days later, eventually taken down.
Moore, the filmmaker famous for his left-leaning documentaries “Farenheit 9/11”, “Capitalism: A Love Story”, “Bowling for Columbine”, and “Sicko”, has said in the past that he doesn’t believe in U.S. copyright laws.
In 2007 Moore wrote on the Monthly Review web magazine “I don't agree with the copyright laws… You share things with people. I think information and art and ideas should be shared.”
In 2009, prize-winning Iraq war correspondent Michael Yon similarly confronted Moore over the filmmaker’s use of Yon’s photo of a soldier carrying a blood-spattered child on MichaelMoore.com to illustrate a George Bush bashing rant. Yon repeatedly tried to contact the site and received no response.
Moore’s attorney, Ken Weinrib of Franklin, Weinrib, Rudell & Vassallo, P.C. did not respond to repeated calls for comment on this story.
While Moore may not be a fan of copyright laws, the federal government certainly believes in them. Copyright law prohibits the copying of another person's original creative work without paying the person or the entity that created it. "Fair use" provides an exception to the rule and allows portions of a work to be used depending on how much is taken, whether it is transformative and whether it hurts the commercial market for the original. If the "Knoxville News Sentinel" believes their copyright has been violated they can file a complaint in federal court, alleging copyright infringement.
“There are few areas of law more unpredictable than fair use because every decision is case by case and it is an extremely qualitative assessment,” explains Jonathan Melber, attorney and author of ART/WORK, a legal guide that covers copyright issues for artists. “The court has to look at the second work and decide whether it has been changed physically and conceptually enough to be a new work. In general, reprinting an article in its entirety is not presenting it in a context different enough to be considered something new.”
Complying with copyright law would have actually meant less work for Moore and his website administrators, who could have just as easily excerpted part of the Knoxville News’ story and used their original video, rather than taking the man hours it took to edit out their logo.
“Ideally, what I would have liked is if they had used some portion under fair use. I understand that they are aggregating information, but you don’t just cut and paste the whole story, videos and photos like that,” explained Lail, who says his newspaper will not currently pursue any legal action against Moore.
“To do it the right way would have been so simple. An excerpt of the article with a link to the complete story would have been excellent.”