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"Fair use" doctrine raised in Dr. Phil Show copyright infringement case

News and Notes Focused on the 3 Public Faces of IP Law

  • Brand Image Protection - Trademark Law
  • Visual Image Protection - Copyright Law
  • Personal Image Protection - Right of Publicity Law

The Image Protection Law blog has been created in order to share stories and information on the legal aspects of: 1) the marketplace reputation of a company or product captured in its trademark, 2) published or publicly-displayed artwork, photography, and any created visual design, and 3) use of a person's photograph or likeness for product promotion or other commercial purposes.

The "IP3" share at least one thing in common: Image is everything. In these posts let's look at what that means in the realm of intellectual property in the news, but let's also be prepared to explore if there's something more beyond "everything." Don't forget, the intellectual in "intellectual property" doesn't mean smart or brainy, although by nature true creators often are. The word is used to refer to any creation, i.e., a "product of the mind." While this blog will be regularly updated, you are encouraged to share your thoughts on these posts.

Many of our readers are familiar with the television personality, Dr. Phil McGraw, the celebrity psychologist known for his no-nonsense and sometimes hard-line approach to personal, interpersonal and psychological problems. Dr. Phil may have celebrity status, but he certainly isn't everybody's favorite guy. As recent evidence of this, consider a recent lawsuit involving a former CBS director who worked on the show.

Peteski Productions, which owns the rights to Dr. Phil's television show, sued a former CBS director for allegedly accessing a database of the show's video files back in 2015 without authorization, making a video recording on her iPhone, and storing it on her personal computer. Peteski argued that this was a breach of the director's employment and confidentiality agreements, as well as copyright infringement. 

The former director intended to use the video to support claims made in a California lawsuit involving Peteski Productions that she was subjected to false imprisonment, retaliation and wrongful termination, and intentional infliction of emotional distress that occurrred in 2015 when Dr. Phil called staffers to a meeting to address a media leak. She claims the room where the meeting took place was locked and manned with security guards while Dr. Phil delivered an angry, intimidating rant.  

At the center of the case was whether the former director's unauthorized taking and storing video footage constituted "fair use." This refers to the legal doctrine that copyrighted material may, under some circumstances, be used without permission in order to offer criticism or to protect the public interest. The federal judge handling the case ultimately ruled that the former director's use of the material did not fall under the fair use rule, since she was the only person who stood to benefit from the use she was making.

Fair use of copyrighted material is particularly applicable in the fields of news reporting, education, and library and archival endeavors. Anybody seeking to use another's material within the boundaries of fair use, though, needs to have a sound understanding of its limitations.

Caution is especially necessary in cases where a significant portion of a copyrighted work is used, especially when the use is likely to interfere with the intended exploitation of the original work. An experienced intellectual property attorney can provide sound guidance in such cases to ensure one minimizes the risk of copyright infringement.

Source: University of California, Fair use for teaching and research, Accessed September 6, 2017. 

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