Readers of this blog may remember that Judge Edgardo Ramos from the Southern District of New York (SDNY) denied on February 10, 2015 Fox News Network’s motion for summary judgment in a copyright infringement suit filed by the copyright holder of an iconic 9/11 photograph. Fox News had unsuccessfully moved for summary judgment, claiming fair use.
Fox News (Defendant) has now filed on March 19 a motion to certify the February 10, 2015 opinion and order for immediate appeal, under 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b), which gives a district judge the power to certify an order of interlocutory appeal , if he believes that “such order involves a controlling question of law as to which there is substantial ground for difference of opinion and that an immediate appeal from the order may materially advance the ultimate termination of the litigation.” Under Second Circuit case law, cited by Defendant, a question of law is controlling if the certified order would terminate the action, or could significantly affect the conduct of the action, or if the issue has precedential value for a large number of cases.
Fox News is arguing that the February 10, 2015 order is presenting the controlling question of law of whether...
“For fair use purposes, whether a secondary user may transform a visual work by placing that work in a new context and for a new purpose, without substantial physical alterations.”
Fox News calls this area of law “murky” and further notes that “guidance is sorely needed” as “the use of visual works on social media… is widespread.”
Transformative Qualities of Social Media
Fox is asking the Second Circuit to recognize a “context-sensitive test” for transformative use, and claims that social media is “transformative by design.” It argues that “transformative qualities of social media are not taken into account when considering a fair use defense” and that the “use’s particular context” should be taken into account in fair use cases. Such finding would have “massive implications for the millions of Americans who use social media on a regular basis.” Fox News also claims that not considering the use of protected works on social media to be fair "would effectively proscribe a wide swath of ongoing online speech. The public has a strong interest in having these fundamental free-speech concerns addressed at the earliest possible juncture. ”
Defendant further argues that it had used Plaintiff’s photo “in an inherently transformative context: on social media.” As social media is not one-way to communication, but rather, a way to share ideas, expression on social media “is thus inherently intertwined with comments and criticism,” two of the purposes expressively mentioned by Section 107 of the Copyright Act.
While this argument alone appears overbroad, as agreeing with it would allow for almost any use of copyrighted work on social media, Fox narrows the argument further along in its memorandum when arguing that interlocutory review is warranted because the order “implicate[d] fundamental free-speech questions,” as its and others’ speech may be chilled “from using copyrighted content on social media to discuss issues of public concern.”
Difference of Opinion Over Appropriate Standard for Transformation of Visual Works
Defendant also argues that certification is warranted because the fair use jurisprudence of the Second Circuit is divided. While cases such as Swatch Grp. Mgmt. Servs. Ltd. v. Bloomberg L.P., and Bill Graham Archives v. Dorling Kindersley Ltd. held that a use can be transformative even if the copyrighted work has not been altered, the Second Circuit placed great weight on transformative use in Cariou v Prince. Defendant also cited the Second Circuit Authors Guild, Inc. v. Hathitrust case, where the court asserted that “[a]dded value or utility is not the test: a transformative work is one that serves a new and different function from the original work and is not a substitute for it” (at 96).
Transformative Content or Transformative Purpose?
Fox News is arguing that Judge Ramos relied on Cariou, which conflicts with Bill Graham. It cites a blog post written by Professor Rebecca Tushnet , where she noted that, in Cariou, “the court, despite speaking of purpose, seemed to require transformation of content, contrary to the aims of much appropriation art” and also wrote that “Fox’s purpose… [of use] was an issue of fact, not indisputably different as the publisher’s was in Bill Graham Archives.” Indeed, in Bill Graham, the Second Circuit found that a publisher’s purpose in using copyrighted images of posters in its biography of the Grateful Dead was “plainly different from the original purpose for which they were created” (at 609) and was fair use.
Is publication on social media, a new context for the work, enough to warrant finding of a different purpose? Probably not, but the issue of the respective weight of transformative content and transformative purpose for fair use analysis purpose warrants further discussion in court. Many copyright practitioners and scholars are now rooting for Fox’s motion to be granted, hoping it will lead to another Second Circuit fair use case, which may clarify Cariou.