Don’t make Christopher Knight the posterboy for copyright oppression

Enough already about Christopher Knight’s purported martyrdom because he had a clip pulled from YouTube. [Boing Boing sums it up in 100 words or less here.] Here’s what happened: Knight made some ridicule-worthy videos and posted them on YouTube. Viacom, through it’s VH1 channel, appropriated some of that video into a portion of its show Web Junk 2.0, with the host of the show adding some comedic commentary. Knight then posted the Web Junk 2.0 footage on YouTube. Viacom had the clip removed pursuant to a DMCA takedown notice.

You can’t swing a cat around the blogosphere these past couple days without hitting a post about this. Christopher Knight is to this week what Nixon Peabody was to last.

Sure, Viacom, like many other big content owners, may overreach from time to time when it comes to the enforcement of its intellectual property rights. That’s a disservice to both Viacom and to the public. And to the extent there is overreaching, criticism is appropriate.

But to truly make that criticism effective, one needs to mount arguments against practices that truly are contrary to law. In this Christopher Knight situation, Viacom’s conduct is not beyond the pale. They have rights in the Web Junk 2.0 clip as it is an original work they created. It may be a derivative work, based on Knight’s clip. Fine. What’s more, Knight’s posting was bodily appropriation of VH1′s work.

In any event, it sure looks like VH1′s use of the work is a fair one. And who doesn’t love fair use? (Then I heard something about a goose and a gander.) So by using Knight’s clip in the first place, VH1 was not being the bad actor here. Owen Thomas gets it.

This situation is the wrong one in which to villainize big media. Look for a more sympathetic victim of copyright abuse.