I belong to the online knitting group, Ravelry. Every four years the group runs a challenge that begins the night of the opening ceremony of the Olympics and ends with the closing ceremony. The point is to do a whole project in that time. My first time, I finished twelve inches of a long and complicated project. This time I did two tiny projects.
Sometime before the beginning of this year's challenge, Ravelry received a cease and desist letter from the Olympic committee. The challenge could go on but the name had to be changed from Ravolympics (can I even say that here?) to something that didn't fall under the trademark of the Olympics. I didn't hear about this on Ravelry, but in an NPR report. The group graciously changed the name; I don't remember what the new name is. Well, that's the point isn't it? The name had to be less memorable, because it could no longer be associated with the event it replicated.
While I thought the whole fiasco was pretty stupid, I do remember incidents that were not so off the wall. Remember the Obama photo that was made into a poster? The poster maker was sent a cease and desist letter and he sued sighting fair use.
No one seems to know what fair use really is and the only way to find out is to go to court.
A similar incident occurred when my Tai Chi teacher wanted to hand out copies of a book that was out of print, the author was dead, the publisher out of business, the book out of print and no one knew who owned the copyright. He wanted to make copies and send them to us electronically. No money changed hands. Fair Use?
From the time I started working on WWK and realized that pictures were required, I have been very careful what I chose. I use photos I have taken myself, or paintings that are at least 100 years old and thus in public domain. Or are they? Does the copy I am using actually belong to someone, even if the picture itself does not?
I have heard writers say that photographs, especially those on line, can be used by anyone who wants them. But why would photography or painting or any visual art be any less the property of the owner than writing?
It never occurred to me that Ravelry couldn't hold the Ravolympics. I imagine that WWK flies under the radar, but maybe not. Maybe all the pictures we use are in public domain or belong to the writer. We would certainly like to be popular enough so that we might get a cease and desist letter. Can Fair Use be fair? I sure don’t know the answer. Do you?