Maybe Republicans Will Finally See the Light on Copyright Law

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


The Obama campaign recently released a TV commercial that features Mitt Romney singing “America the Beautiful.” This is a song that’s in the public domain, so it’s no problem. The Romney campaign, hoping to do a little musical mockery of its own, responded with a commercial that features Obama singing Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.” Boom! This is decidedly not in the public domain, and BMG immediately sent a DMCA takedown order to YouTube. Within hours, the commercial was gone. Adam Serwer comments:

This seems like a straightforward instance of censorship, whatever BMG’s politics. There’s a doctrine in copyright law called “fair use,” which allows limited use of copyrighted material for “purposes of illustration or comment” or “use in a parody of some of the content of the work parodied.” Whatever one thinks of Romney’s political views, as Ars Technica’s Timothy Lee writes, “The Romney ad seems like as clear-cut a case of fair use as can be imagined.”

Obama’s singing is a core part of the ad’s message, and copyright law explicitly mentions commentary and criticism as justifications for fair use….Meanwhile, Lee notes, according to the law, “YouTube is required to wait a minimum of 10 days before putting the video back up.” It’s hard to see the benefit in allowing companies to unilaterally decide political disputes this way, whatever their intentions.

I agree on the merits. However, where Adam sees lemons, I see lemonade. It’s common knowledge that the best way to get Congress to act is to do something that personally annoys a congressman. So maybe this is that thing. Now that modern copyright law is hitting them where it hurts, perhaps the Republican caucus in the House will be outraged enough to introduce a bill that defines fair use more reasonably and eliminates the more draconian abuses of DMCA.

I know, I know: fat chance. But maybe if it happens again, they’ll be primed and ready. And if the elephant is annoyed enough times, maybe it will finally do something. Stranger things have happened.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest