Student copyright challenged during local election

Karl Schneider

It’s becoming more common for college coursework to be done on the Internet, and one Kent State student recently found one of his class projects used as political propaganda, which raised questions about copyright law on student work.

The class, Multimedia Techniques, required students to put together a short video and upload it to Vimeo, a video-sharing website, which is open to the public.

 

Last semester, Joe Finley, a senior journalism major, interviewed members of the Lakewood (Ohio) fire department about the rumors that a hospital in the same town would be closed.

 

As it happens, the mayor’s chair was open for election this year and the incumbent mayor’s opposition began using it for propaganda. The video was also reposted on Ohio State Senator Michael Skindell’s campaign Facebook page.

 

One of the firefighters interviewed in the video had seen the opposition using the video on a political website and contacted Finley.

 

“As soon as he told me about it, I went to the site (Vimeo) and deleted it,” Finley said. “About 15 minutes later, he texted me again and told me that someone else had saved it.”

 

The video, and subsequent reports from local media, prompted Lakewood’s fire chief, Scott Gilman, to make a statement. The firefighters in the video, when used in the political context, could be taken to mean that the current mayor, Michael Summers, was bad for the city. Thus began a frenzy of Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) complaints from Finley.

 

“I went to every link I could find on YouTube and Vimeo, copied the link and sent in a DMCA,” Finley said.

 

Vimeo was quick to respond, deleting the videos five minutes after the DMCA was filed, said Finley. The problem was that someone had saved the video to their personal computer. Videos kept popping up from other sources.

 

“Every time I file a DMCA complaint and the video is taken down, someone reposts it,” Finley said.

 

Finley repeatedly contacted Skindell and his office for copyright infringement and went ignored. In one correspondence, Finley wrote, “The video was available on a public format, which it is now unavailable on. The video was shot by me, for a school project… I am formally requesting that you remove said video from all politically affiliated media.”

Skindell expressed that he shared the video on Facebook, commenting, “Isn’t this an interesting perspective on the impact of the closing of Lakewood Hospital,” but he did not use the video for his mayoral campaign, he said.

“Isn’t this an interesting perspective on the impact of the closing of Lakewood Hospital,” Skindell said he wrote on his Facebook page.

The video was not displayed on Skindell’s main campaign site, and any pamphlets or other sites using the video were not under his control, Skindell said. Finley’s attempt to contact Skindell through Facebook went into a filtered inbox, and the senator didn’t see the email until this week, he said.

Skindell came across the video on a Lakewood resident’s Facebook page and shared the video. He did not copy and paste the video onto his own page, he said.

Skindell’s campaign managers continued to use Finley’s full video for campaigning purposes. Finley did not know exactly who had saved his video and was unable to completely remove it from the Internet.

 

Finley eventually went to his professors in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication for help. They directed him to the Student Press Law Center and other resources that he may be able to use.

 

“By university policy, students own the copyrights to their coursework,” said Cynthia Kristof, head of Kent State’s Copyright and Document Services. “The use by the politician is likely an infringement if the politician used the entire work.”

 

Kristof further suggested, “Students and faculty alike (should) place a copyright notice on everything they do, especially if it gets placed on a site like Vimeo.”

 

Finley contacted the Student Press Law Center for help on removing the video from the Internet, but they did not return his messages.

 

Not only was Finley’s video reposted Skindell’s campaign Facebook page, but paper fliers were distributed with direct links to the video printed on them. This prompted Finley to pursue a lawsuit if he is able to find the proper representation.

 

Kristoff advises caution for students who must upload their work to a public website online. While hiring a lawyer can be expensive, there are other steps she recommends students take to protect their work.

 

“(A copyright symbol, the year and your name) is frequently enough to make people think twice about infringing, or at least prompt people to reach out and ask permission,” Kristoff said. “The addition of the phrase, ‘All rights reserved’ can enhance that effect. Students can, but usually do not because it involves at least a $35 fee, register their work with the U.S. Copyright Office.”

 

Editor’s note: After publication, Senator Skindell contacted the Kent Stater to make a statement about the previously published story, ‘’Student copyright challenged during local election.’ Corrections to the story have been made to reflect his comments.

 

Karl Schneider is a general assignment reporter for The Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected]