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Say someone finds a clever way to use incredible stock footage for their own gain by screen capturing the stock footage (or downloading stream .m4p files and splicing them all together) and uses video editing to remove watermarks; doesn't credit the owners; and doesn't pay for the footage. Is this illegal? Why and how so exactly? I mean it's something sold, but technically anything on one's computer monitor is recordable and thus editable and reusable for gain.

People do this with music all of the time -- use other existing works and heavily edit them and use them as their own. The original authors never know and even if they suspect anything, there's little room to sue when the edited version can be very different. What're the facts/loopholes here?

  • You should read the basics first. – Nij Nov 4 '17 at 20:46
  • "but technically anything on one's computer monitor is recordable and thus editable and reusable for gain." That may be true in systems of "law" in which "snitches get stitches" or "graffiti is OK if you steal the paint". However in the law systems we discuss here, no. – Harper Nov 4 '17 at 22:26
  • "there's little room to sue when the edited version can be very different" - Not the situation here. Editing out a watermark does not make it very different from the original. – Brandin Nov 5 '17 at 11:34
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Under 17 USC 106

the owner of copyright under this title has the exclusive rights to do and to authorize any of the following:

(1) to reproduce the copyrighted work in copies or phonorecords;

(2) to prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work

Since Owner has that exclusive right, only he may do or authorize the creation of a copy or derivative work. As defined in 17 USC 101,

A “derivative work” is a work based upon one or more preexisting works, such as a translation, musical arrangement, dramatization, fictionalization, motion picture version, sound recording, art reproduction, abridgment, condensation, or any other form in which a work may be recast, transformed, or adapted. A work consisting of editorial revisions, annotations, elaborations, or other modifications which, as a whole, represent an original work of authorship, is a “derivative work”.

In editing out the watermark, you would be creating a derivative work.

It is not actually required that you pay for the work or credit the owner of copyright, all that is required is that you have his permission. If he allows you to make the work, removing watermarks and not paying him, then it is legal. If he does not respond affirmatively (no answer, you can't find him, or he denies the request), you do not have permission. The fact that it is physically possible to make a copy does not change the legal situation. Owner can then sue infringer, where the amount recovered depends on the circumstances (what would the licensing royalties have been; how willful was the infringement, etc.).

In the US, there are annually about 1,775 thefts per 100,000 people, yet theft is a crime. Not all thefts are actually punished, for many reasons. Copyright infringement is particularly popular because it is extremely hard to control making of copies, and because many people either don't know or willfully disregard copyright law. There was a meme, some decades ago, to the effect that if you make a little change in a work, then you aren't making an exact copy (but copyright law doesn't just prohibit exact copying). Most copyright owners don't have the time necessary to search the internet for pirated versions of their works. With DMCA take-down, it has become somewhat simpler to put an end to specific instances of infringement.

  • I think nowadays the "little change" in a work actually makes it worse, because now you are creating a derived work without permission, and making copies without permission. And editing out the watermark is even worse, because you intentionally destroy evidence of your wrongdoing. – gnasher729 Nov 4 '17 at 20:15
  • Making by hand a claymation video for a LIGHTS song would be a derivative work. Removing a watermark is not. The watermark isn't even part of the work, it's part of the copy protection. – Harper Nov 4 '17 at 22:47

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