Open Mic

April 2010

Why The Take-Down of the 'Hitler' Parodies on YouTube was Illegal

Aaron Barnhart Posted April 25, 2010 at 9:43 PM


The German film company which produced "Downfall," the movie about the last days of Adolf Hitler now made famous by a zillion Web parodies, has ordered a DMCA (Digital Media Copyright Act) takedown of all such parody videos from YouTube.

Many observers on the way are reacting as though this is a sad but inevitable development, the next-door neighbor calling the cops to break up the kids' house party, and what can do you do about it, that's the way of the world.

Actually, it's not the way of the world. I have been reporting on fair use in video mashups for some time, and when I heard of the Hitler meme takedown, my first reaction was that the copyright owner had absolutely no cause to take down the video, and that someone should demand that Google reinstate all videos immediately.

But just to be sure, I shot an email to Patricia Aufderheide, the distinguished media critic and director of the Center for Social Media at American University. In 2007, Pat and a blue-ribbon team of intellectual property lawyers issued a breakthrough document called Code of Best Practices for Fair Use in Online Video -- and it addresses exactly the kind of parody that the producer of "Downfall" just ordered taken down.

Or at least that was my first impression. As I say, I asked Pat Aufderheide for her response. It is as follows:

"they can all use fair use and do a counter takedown, without fear, if they choose, and get them all reinstated."

A "counter takedown" is also known as a counter-notification. Google even has a help page on YouTube showing you how to write you, though the tone of the help page is needlessly intimidating and makes it sound like you haven't got a hoot in hell of having your video put back online. That's not true. Read the Center's 2007 mixer/mashup document and you will see that the parodists are right and the film studio is wrong.

So get cracking. And as for the rest of you, surely there's someone creative enough to put up a funny "Hitler Reacts to the Takedown of Hitler Reacts Videos" video.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Since Aaron first wrote this last week, we're glad to see some of these 'Hitler' parodies already returning to YouTube...Here's one we linked to during March Madness]

Love in the Ruins: Tiger, Mickelson, and The Masters

Chuck Ross Posted April 12, 2010 at 2:58 AM

A few weeks ago, soon after Tiger Woods announced that he was returning to golf by playing The Masters at Augusta National, I wrote a piece invoking a lot of quotes from America’s favorite Southern son, William Faulkner, about what redemption really is, and how one can obtain it.

It concluded by talking about how Tiger could obtain greatness in life and perhaps, one day, become the person many of us thought he was. Not someone who was flawless, but someone who was able to inspire us by being able to excel through those most old-fashioned of American values: talent and hard work, along with an ability to push himself to his absolute limit, both physically and mentally, no matter what the obstacle.

As we’ve seen in the intervening weeks, it’s going to be a struggle for Woods, both on the golf course and off it. One example: The press conference where he seemed forthcoming one moment and then, oddly, not the next moment, such as when he refused to say why he was in rehab.

As the events of the last few weeks have unfolded, culminating with the playing of The Masters itself, my thoughts have drifted from Faulkner to another Southern writer who is less familiar, Walker Percy.

Percy was trained as a medical doctor who then became a novelist, essayist and philosopher. He was very much influenced by the Dane Soren Kierkegaard. That means Percy—who died 20 years ago next month at age 74—was concerned about issues relating to our existence in terms of things like free will and the choices we make and why and how we make those choices. In other words, the general bailiwick of concepts falling under the term existentialism.

Back in 1971 Percy wrote a very funny, accessible, biting, satirical novel called “Love in the Ruins.” It took place “at a time near the end of the world,” and is set, physically, in and around a golf course.

Much of the action in the book revolves around the main character’s invention of a device he calls a lapsometer. As a reader on the internet, Penn Jacobs, aptly describes it, “the lapsometer measures the degree to which a soul has fallen, the degree of estrangement and alienation it has obtained.” Not only that, but the lapsometer can then heal this lapse.

In other words, a lapsometer can diagnose what most hurts your soul and can then heal you.

One condition it can diagnose is called angelism-bestialism. Now, this’ll blow you away: Percy writes, in “Love in the Ruins” (published almost 40 years ago), “It is not uncommon nowadays to see patients suffering from angelism-bestialism. A man, for example, can feel at one and the same time extremely abstracted and inordinately lustful toward lovely young women who may be perfect strangers.”

Whoa--a name for what Woods was doing before he was even born.

Ultimately, it turns out the lapsometer is not the cure-all it was intended to be.

In other words, there really are no easy answers, no shortcuts in life.

And that was the lesson of The Masters, with Phil Mickelson’s victory.

Mickelson, the man who struggled early in his career with a 0-for-41 record in winning major tournaments before he finally came out on top—which he did when he won his first Masters in 2004.

Then, last year he quit the tour for awhile when his wife, Amy, was diagnosed with breast cancer, which she is still fighting. Soon after his wife was diagnosed with the disease, his mother, Mary, was also diagnosed with breast cancer.

Mickelson rarely wins with the ease or domination that Tiger has exhibited in his career. But Mickelson has been someone who has been able to inspire us by being able to excel through those most old-fashioned of American values: talent and hard work, along with an ability to push himself to his absolute limit, both physically and mentally, no matter what the obstacle. And he’s done this by being true to his core values.

What a joy it was to watch this Masters over the weekend, and how Mickelson crafted his victory, starting with his eagle, eagle, birdie on Saturday.

And ending as the golden light of Sunday’s dusk lit that single tear running down Mickelson’s face as he embraced Amy after his victory.

It turns out that the man—and golfer—who we should have been most admiring has been standing in front of us the entire time. It’s just that too many of us hadn’t been looking at the right man.#

‘Idol' Irony: Explaining Why Viewers Voted Off Who They Voted Off This Week, And Why They’ll Vote Him Off Again

Chuck Ross Posted April 8, 2010 at 12:13 AM

Ryan Seacrest, introducing "Idol" on Wednesday night, said the results of that night’s "American Idol" show would be shocking, and, indeed, conventional wisdom says they were: America voted, and the person with the fewest number of votes was Michael Lynche.

I say shocking to those who lean toward conventional wisdom, because, indeed, Lynche has been a favorite of the judges this year. Furthermore, he hasn’t been in the bottom two or three prior to this week.

But to many of us, his being voted off was not that surprising. (Nor was his being saved by the judges, given the praise they have lavished upon him.)

First, as most longtime “Idol” watchers know, it’s about this time every season that America often votes off someone the judges think is really good. Many times I’ve also found it inexplicable why that person is voted off.

But not this time.

That’s because something has been going on with Michael that’s different than any other contestant who has come this far in the contest, at least that I can remember.

And it’s unfortunate, because Big Mike has a big personality and a heartwarming personal story. You wanna root for the guy.

But here’s what’s been going on with him for many of us who watch “Idol.” Too often Michael’s vocals aren’t da bomb in our living rooms. Giving the judges their due, I’m assuming that in person Lynche has been hitting doubles, triples and home runs just about every week.

But if our house is typical, what we’re hearing through our TV—and we have a big Sony Bravia with decent speakers—is walks, singles, and the more than occasional long fly ball that's caught by an outfielder for an out.

For two seasons TVWeek did weekly podcasts with “Idol” executive producer Ken Warwick and former showrunner Nigel Lythgoe. Every so often Lythgoe and I would discuss the fact that a performance that Lythgoe and the judges thought was just fantastic in person really fell flat when viewed on TV at home.

The judges rarely mention it—though Simon has referred to it a few times this season.

I call this factor “Idol" Irony. Why this happens fairly often with a Lynche performance I don’t know. And with fewer and fewer contestants left on the show, it’s now manifest itself with what happened this week—Lynche receiving the fewest number of votes.

Clearly Tim Urban is only still on the show because girls think he’s cute. I’m not sure why Aaron is still on. Andrew is on thin ice. Katie making it down to the final two or three is doubtful

And despite the judges saving Lynche this week, he’ll soon be gone again.

Because regardless how much he might remind one of Maxwell or Al Green in person, too often in our living rooms he reminds us of a Max not well at all, with a voice sounding surprisingly thin and almost weak, lacking both the vigor and character of real soul.

It’s a case of a great guy who might have a lot of singing talent when seen live, but whose voice just doesn’t travel well over TV.

And unfortunately for Big Mike, what America is judging him on is how his performance sounds to us on TV.#