Re:[rumori] Cheatahs? (Oh! This was a forward from Steev!)

Angela Genusa (
Sat, 10 Jul 1999 11:12:30 -0500

At 06:45 AM 7/10/99 PDT, Andrew Lander wrote:
>A piece I assembled (I don't want to say wrote, or even made) recently
>consisted of a newspaper report on the Columbine massacre. The only changes
>I made to the article were replacing the name Harris and Klebold with
>Clinton and Milosevic, and Columbine with Kosovo.
>I don't think of myself as having written the piece, or created it. The
>changes I made to it are extremely slight, and I'm not sure if it qualifies
>as being a new entity. The fact is, I'm not sure exactly what category it
>falls into.
>Anyone have any thoughts as to the nature of a piece like that?

Although it sounds like even though your piece was written in a spirit of
parody, since you only changed the names, it would probably constitute a
copyright violation according to existing laws. If you had taken several
news articles and recombined phrases from them, especially cliched news
article phrases, but not lifting entire, identifiable passages, then you
could probably get away with it. The Onion and Ted Rall's humor columns are
examples of news story parodies that accomplish what you are trying to do
in terms of making a point. Of course, you are free to rehash, plagiarize,
collage, recombine, reassemble, all day long for your own amusement and
your friends'. If you publish the piece you spoke of, however, either in
print or on the Web, you take the risk that the author of the original
article or the news corporation who holds the copyright of its staff writer
might take legal action against you.

As to whether or not a piece like this would possess artistic merit is yet
another subjective matter -- and this is where more of the controversy
about the copyright law exists, whether it concerns writing, music or art.
If you reproduce a Campbell's soup can 50 times on canvas, is it art, fair
use -- or copyright violation? If you take Roy Orbison's "Pretty Woman" and
re-record it, changing the words, is it art, fair use -- or copyright
violation? If you take a photograph from the Miami newspaper and silkscreen
it as a small part of a large recombinant collage, is it art, fair use --
or copyright violation?

This is part of what's being debated in the courts and on this list. As I
see it, the problem is it's being decided by the lawyers, courts, and
corporate behemoths, who wouldn't recognize art if it jumped up and bit
them on the ass, and who are trying to restrict artists' ability to fairly
use existing material. I'm reiterating kristie dahlia's well-made point:
"Much of it has to do not so much with the laws themselves but with who
gets to interpret them." And as they say, he who has the gold makes the

Finally, of course, this *is* America ;) -- you are always free to write
whatever you are like and publish it -- and anyone else is free to file a
lawsuit against you if they like.

Angela Genusa
Editorial Engineer, Rehash Slinger

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