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Ray William Johnson’s ‘Equals Three’ Wins Fair Use Suit, Establishes Precedent 

A California Judge recently ruled in favor of a fair use lawsuit citing ‘transformative’ works in the case of Equals Three Studios YouTube star, Ray William Johnson vs. viral-videos aggregator, Jukin Media.

Johnson used several clips from videos on Jukin Media’s popular Fail Army YouTube channel to curate his own video works on his Equals Three Studios YouTube channel. According to Variety.com, Jukin Media issued takedown notices of 19 videos on Equals Three Studios channel, but Johnson responded that his use of Fail Army’s clips constitutes the copyright exemption of “fair use.”

The fair use copyright law loop hole has gray areas that have lead to lawsuits. In this recent case between the YouTube channels, Judge Stephen V. Wilson of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California concluded in his Oct. 13 decision that “Equals Three’s use of Junkin’s videos is admittedly commercial. Nevertheless, the commercial nature of the use is outweighed by the episode’s trans formativeness.”

The Copyright Act of 1976 cites four factors and three questions to consider when applying the fair use exemption.

An article by David Riedel reiterates these considerations. One should think about these four factors: (1) the character of the use, (2) the nature of the original work, (3) the amount of work taken, (4) the effect of taking on market value of the work. Also, the user of another’s work should ask oneself these three questions: (1) Is the use of the copyrighted material different from its original intent? (2) Is the amount taken appropriate? and (3) Is it reasonable within its field or discipline?

Similar to Judge Wilson, in his article, Riedel attempts to define fair use. Riedel offers what seems to be an attempt to calculate the decision.

Judge Wilson argued that his precedential decision was difficult. “Determining whether Equals Three’s episodes parody Junkin’s videos is a difficult and nuanced task.”

The article appearing in The Daily Dot notes that, “a concrete definition of what constitutes fair use has been notoriously difficult to pin down, a problem that has plagued many creators in the digital space who rely on re-purposed content.”

In deciding that only 18 of the 19 videos were fair use, the judge was able to rule on the basis of “transformative work” because he “found that the clips had been substantially re-contextualized through commentary provided by Equals Three host, Robby Motz.”

Only one of Johnson’s videos on his Equals Three YouTube channel was found to be a copyright infringement of Jukin’s Media.

The judge ruled that a clip of the video of the iPhone 6 report that is licensed and used in a video on Junkin’s Media, was used inappropriately because Equals Three made only “broad general comments rather than direct critical statements about the video.”

Judge Wilson’s fair use precedent “could have wide-ranging implications for creators who earn a living aggregating and curating viral video clips.”

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