There is a fine line between what does and doesn't fall under fair use. That line came into clear view this week as the Museum of Classic Chicago TV received a series of copyright strikes from Sony Pictures Entertainment. The strikes revolve around episodes of Bewitched from the 1960s that had been posted to YouTube under the concept of preservation. The strikes would have terminated the channel had SPE followed through on the threat, but backed down when Chief Curator Rick Klein removed the content.
What is the Museum of Classic Chicago TV?
The Museum of Classic Chicago TV (MCCTV) is a non-profit organization whose mission is to preserve and promote the rich legacy of classic television programming in Chicago. Founded by former journalist Rick Klein, MCCTV was created to act as an archive and research center dedicated to preserving and studying the works of pioneering television creators in Chicago. The collection includes rare footage, interviews, and clips from various eras of Chicago television, including both live-action and animation programming.
In addition to the organization's website, they have also been uploading content to YouTube. They have a dedicated channel that includes classic TV commercials, special features, and more. Through these videos and other materials, MCCTV aims to educate the public about Chicago's classic television heritage. The organization has also been actively involved in the community, hosting events like screenings of classic shows, talks with industry professionals, and more.
The Sony confrontation
This week, the Museum received a series of strikes for some of the content they had posted to YouTube. In particular, these copyright strikes were from Sony regarding episodes of Bewitched which had been posted to the organization's YouTube channel. These strikes were enough for the channel to be shut down - that can be done at 3 copyright strikes.
Klein tried to reach out to Sony Pictures Entertainment in order to try to resolve the issue. If the channel were to remove the videos, the content owner would have the option to revoke the strikes. This would be like the interaction never happened - no more strikes, no more threat of channel shutdown. However, SPE seemed to be unreachable, likely due to its size.
This is not the first time the channel has run afoul of copyright holders. In the past, owners have issued 7 day warnings rather than straight out strikes. This is the normal process - it's what we do, as well. With Sony, however, they went right to the hardball tactics, and seemed to leave no room for negotiation. This would mean that the YouTube channel dedicated to preservation would have been deleted and no future channels would be allowed to be created in its place.
Fortunately, thanks to content published online, SPE reached out and revoked the strikes after the channel removed the offending content. The channel is safe - for now. This is because a lot of the content being "preserved" by the museum is still under copyright, meaning they have no legal right or ability to post it on their website or YouTube.
The public interest for preserving the content is likely high, and that's what Fair Use is intended to balance. However, Fair Use does not allow for the use of a full piece of copyrighted content, no matter the purpose. So, under no real circumstances, is what the Museum doing considered Fair Use. Therefore, it is likely that more copyright holders will come for the channel, effectively bringing it down.