Artist Files Completely Frivolous Copyright Lawsuit Against The NRA For Briefly Showing Public Sculpture In Stupid Video
I apologize in advance, but this story is full of frivolous annoying things. Unfortunately, they are frivolous annoying things that hit at the very core intersection of stuff we talk about here on Techdirt: copyright and free expression. Last year, the NRA pushed out a truly ridiculous advertising video, referred to as “The Clenched Fist of Truth” or “The Violence of Lies.” It was a stupid video from a stupid organization which served no purpose other than to upset people who hate the NRA. Trolling as advertising. It generated some level of pointless outrage and people went on with their lives. I’m not linking to the video because I don’t need to give it any more attention and if you really want to see it, you know how to use the internet.
Now, let’s move on to Anish Kapoor, a British sculptor who is also annoying. In the early 2000s, he made a silly sculpture for Chicago’s Millenium Park that people from Chicago (and elsewhere) tend to love to mock. It’s called The Bean. I mean, officially, it’s called “Cloud Gate,” but no one calls it that. Even Kapoor now now calls it the Bean.
However, copyright disputes over the Bean go way back. Back in 2005 there was an article about security guards evicting photographers for taking pictures of the popular tourist selfie photo opp, because the city said it had to enforce the copyright of the artist. No, really. They said that. There’s been a long, and somewhat ridiculous, debate about the copyright on public sculptures. Many of us believe — with pretty damn good justification, I’d say — that if you agree to a commission from a public entity, in which you are creating a sculpture for the government, you should also give up your copyright with it. Barring that, any and all photography of that sculpture in a public place should simply be declared fair use. Unfortunately, courts have disagreed with this — which is unfortunate.
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However, this week, [Anish Kapoor] took it a step further and filed a really, really dumb copyright lawsuit against the NRA
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The filing itself screams out how frivolous it is in repeatedly complaining about the political message of the NRA’s video, rather than anything related to the actual copyright related rights at issue.
On June 29, 2017, NRA broadcast on television and the internet a video recruiting advertisement entitled variously “The Clenched Fist of Truth” or “The Violence of Lies”, denouncing the media and the “liberal agenda.” It warns of civil unrest and violence, and states that the only way to save “our” country from the “lies” of the liberal media and the “liberal agenda” is with the “clenched fist of truth,” i.e., with guns (obviously referencing NRA’s previous slogan by Charlton Heston that “I’ll give you my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.”) It is a clear call to armed violence against liberals and the media.
I mean, yeah. But what does that have to do with copyright? Absolutely nothing.
The actual copyright claim is incredibly, laughably weak:
As a result of Defendant’s copyright infringement, Plaintiff has suffered and continues to suffer actual damages in an amount according to proof at trial.
Oh come on. There is no one who is watching that video and thinking that Kapoor somehow supports the message and therefore won’t work with him. Also this:
As a further result of Defendant’s copyright infringement, Defendant has obtained direct and indirect profits it would not have otherwise realized but for its infringement of Plaintiff’s copyrighted Work, including but not limited to increased membership dues following the publication of the Infringing Video. Plaintiff is entitled to disgorgement of such profits,
Nah. That’s not how it works. First of all, if the NRA is profiting from the video, it’s not because the Bean is in it. Take out the Bean, replace it with some other stupid statue and nothing changes at all. There is nothing about the Bean that makes the video. There is no profit because of the use of the Bean imagery.
But the larger point: this is so obviously fair use that it’s not even worth going through the full four factor analysis. This is less than a second in a political video showing a public sculpture in a public location. It’s not key to the video. It’s used as part of commentary.
The nature of Kapoor’s lawsuit, however, is quite obviously to stifle free speech he disagrees with.
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We’ve talked at length over the years about how copyright often conflicts with free speech. People often respond with some version of “but piracy isn’t free speech.” That’s a silly claim, but there are still cases like this one where the intent obviously has absolutely nothing to do with the purposes of copyright law, but solely as a method to silence speech. The courts shouldn’t allow it and seem unlikely to do so. Kapoor had every opportunity to exercise his First Amendment rights to speak out against the NRA. Filing a frivolous copyright lawsuit attempting to stifle speech, however, goes way too far.
Link to the rest at TechDirt