SXSWi 2009 Highlight: Fair Use On Trial

Ely Kim’s truly awesome “Boombox: 100 days, 100 songs, 100 locations, 100 dances” — one of the three videos Jason Schultz (Dir Samuelson Law & Technology Clinic, UC Berkeley) used in his South By SouthWest Interactive 2009 panel New Threats to New Media: Fair Use On Trial. Of the many excellent panels and core conversations at SXSWi ’09, Shultz’s stood out as one of the most exciting, unforgettable and still talked about sessions at the convention.

That’s not the only thing that left us stirred and excited: We also truly loved a couple of the packed, standing room only core conversations. Like the provocative and informative How Not To Be Evil (Even By Accident) with Danny O’Brien and Eva Galperin (both from the EFF). Also remarkable and highly valuable was the packed Therapy 2.0: Mental Health for Geeks with Dr. Keely Kolmes (professional website) and Thomas Roche. See also: the Therapy 2.0 wiki here. Don’t get me wrong: there was some pure, tiresome, self-congratulatory crap on the schedule; but the value, when found, was extremely high.

But it was the Fair Use on Trial panel that had the dynamic format, high energy, conflict and controversy that made us remember why it’s worth traveling to see this always-evolving conference. For the panel, Schultz picked Stanford’s Julie Ahrens (one of Shepard Fairey’s lawyers); her polar opposite lawyer Ben Sheffner (Fox Media, the McCain presidential campaign); and film artist Kelly Nyks.

Then Schultz set up a really exciting format: first he’d show us an Internet video where fair use was in question. Next, he’d ask the audience for a quick show of hands — was this fair use or not? No nitty gritty definition or dissection, just our initial gut reactions to the video. Fast! Schultz then gave each lawyer three minutes apiece to argue their case (and they were at odds each time). After the arguments, then Schultz would quickly ask the room again — was the video fair use, or not? Then he’d ask if anyone changed their minds. Every time, people did. Jason would then ask one of the people who’d switched to tell us the reason they switched, and only 30 seconds to sum it up for the room. It was the Fair Use Experiment. We watched three videos total, and the Q/A after was on fire.


It was intense, fast-paced and sparked conversations that continued — well, we’re still having them. One of the other videos Schultz showed was “The Films of Stanley Kubrick“. What do you think? Are either of the videos in this post fair use, or not? This slide was our guide.

* More images from the panel are here.

photo by Violet Blue