Earlier this year, a twitter account known as @555uhz gained some attention and eventually notoriety for posting, at a rate of one image per 2 seconds of film twice an hour, the movie Top Gun. This was a cool idea, and a clever use of Twitter to celebrate a well-known film. Even though posting images from a film is technically copyright infringement, @555uhz’s use of Top Gun fits well within a reasonable interpretation of US Copyright Law’s four factors for evaluating Fair Use.
However, Paramount Pictures — owners of the copyrights to Top Gun — felt otherwise and sent Twitter a number of cease and desist requests on the basis that @555uhz was infringing their rights. Twitter complied eventually complied and suspended the account. It was later un-suspended, but hasn’t posted since February, presumably at the behest of twitter.
— 555 µHz (@555uhz) February 25, 2014
This is an example of a familiar pattern when it comes to content ownership online, where the realities of user-produced puts Twitter or YouTube into a position of copyright arbiter, and from that position, lawsuit-aversion leads to incredibly conservative interpretations of copyright law at the expense of everyday user’s rights. It’s a situation where copyright infringement claims are assumed to be valid until proven otherwise, effectively granting Paramount more rights to prevent your creative work than you have to produce creative work. And remember, “creative work,” doesn’t just include your avant-garde mashup, it also includes the video of your children singing a song that you uploaded for their grandparents to see.
So what should we do about this situation? How do we make it better? Do we fight back? It’s hard to say. On the one hand, it’s a sucky situation; on the other hand, I understand Twitter’s point of view. They have much deeper pockets than, say, me, and reaching into Twitter’s pockets in the form of litigation would probably be a much better investment from the standpoint of a copyright holder. Twitter’s got more to lose, in other words. But still it’s frustrating all around.
So, what to do? Make a Twitter bot.
I know I can’t just tweet images from Top Gun because that would lead to the same situation. I can, however, use the next best thing and stay well clear of Paramount’s copyrights. I’m referring, of course, to another film distributed by Paramount about two fighter pilots who indulge their need for speed on the edge of a global conflict, 1941’s Power Dive, starring Richard Arlen and Jean Parker. It’s got everything Top Gun has (except the beach volleyball), but because Paramount failed or declined to renew its copyright, rights to use content from Power Dive reverted to the public domain.
Therefore, I present @BasicallyTopGun, which will be tweeting frames from Power Dive two images per hour at a sample rate of one image for every two seconds of film. If I’ve done the math right and if it doesn’t get interrupted, it should be finished by October 16, at which point I’ll welcome any suggestions for other aviation-themed public domain films.
— Action Pilots Movie (@BasicallyTopGun) September 4, 2014