The Smiths Meet Peanuts In Comic Strip Mash-Up, And It’s Fair Use
For many, Tumblr is the social network of choice. In addition to the mountains of reposted Benedict Cumberbatch GIFs, there’s a fun selection of original content on there too. Some favorites include Literally Unbelievable, where people think that The Onion’s satirical news stories are real; and This Charming Charlie. The latter went viral over the last few weeks, and involves someone taking Charles Schulz’s old Peanuts comic strips, and replacing the original dialogue with lyrics from 80s miserabilists The Smiths. Here’s an example from the site:
Again, whether due to the novelty factor, or because those characters always look so melancholy that Morrissey’s lyrics seem to fit so well, the site took off. And as the site gained popularity, sure enough, the lawyers came knocking. From the LA Times:
But the music publishing arm of Universal Music Group, one of the three major record companies, apparently doesn’t find that joke funny anymore. Or at least its lawyers don’t. Last week, [This Charming Charlie creator Lauren] LoPrete posted a note on her page saying that she was going to have to stop the simulated music in the face of a growing number of requests from Universal Music Group to remove the material from Tumblr. She’d received a total of six takedown notices for three separate posts, and said more were coming in every hour.
Once This Charming Charlie had been threatened by Big Copyright, lawyers came to LoPrete’s defense. In a letter posted on the site, her attorney argued that no infringement was taking place:
[O]ur client believes in good faith that these three posts, like all posts on her charming website, do not infringe the copyright for any Smiths lyrics, as they constitute fair use in accordance with 17 U.S.C. § 107… [The posts] have no commercial purpose, and cannot have any negative effect on the market for the original works. As a result, the takedown notices are erroneous.
Universal’s lawyers realized that the above was pretty hard to argue with, and quietly announced that it is “dropping its pursuit” of the site. Interestingly, this is not the first time that a comic strip remix strip has attracted legal attention: a few years ago, the site Garfield Minus Garfield went viral, and it was newsworthy at the time that Garfield creator Jim Davis didn’t seek a cease and desist – he actually liked the spinoff.
With This Charming Charlie, it’s nice to write about the rare instance where DMCA takedowns are issued, and the issue is resolved quickly and without much hostility and consternation.