The controversy with The Richter Scales and Lane Hartwell has been fascinating to follow because it goes to show how little understanding people have about copyright and fair use.

For those not following, the Richter Scales, an acapella group, used a photo from Hartwell, a professional photographer in SF — and they put it into a very funny video for a song they created and posted on YT. Lane objected and asked for compensation, but the group replaced Lane’s photo with another. There are many details I’m skipping over, but you can find most here or at the websites above.

There are people arguing across the spectrum, from, “If I have a © on my photos, nobody can use them without permission”, to “If you post it on a webpage, then it’s fair game to use any way I like”, and many people in between.

Copyright laws aren’t particularly well understood by most, and there are grey areas even for experts. This is problematic.

‘Fair use’ allows the Richter Scales to include Lane Hartwell’s photograph in their video for either comment/criticism or parody — and is has to meet a handful of criteria, such as: the purpose of the use should be transformative (adding value, and not simply reproducing the original), the amount used must be justifiable, and it must not erode the potential market for the original artist (Lane). It’s seems fairly easy to argue these points in defense of the Richter Scales, but this system has grey areas and is very complex, and of course people can argue for Lane as well. A better solution is clearly needed.

I want to further explore this and hope to publish my thoughts in follow-up posts over the holidays.