Christina Harper, a student in Jon Pfeiffer’s Fall 2013 Mass Communication Law class at Pepperdine University, wrote the following essay in response to the prompt: You create and post a video on YouTube. The video goes viral and a staffer on Saturday Night Live happens to see the video. She convinces her colleagues at SNL to do a skit spoofing your video. Do you have any rights regarding the video? Can you stop SNL from making fun of your video?
When you post a video on YouTube, you give the domain permission to use your content however it pleases. If SNL decides to air a spoof of your video, you should not be able to stop them. When you create an account, you accept their terms of service which grant YouTube the permission to “use, reproduce, distribute, [and] prepare derivative works of” what you post. YouTube’s license to use your video is “worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicense-able, and transferable.” While YouTube does not own the content you post, it has the same legal rights to it as you do under this agreement. In this way, YouTube is able to avoid liabilities and has your video on its server even after you delete it.
If you post a personal, embarrassing video on YouTube and it goes viral, there is not much you can do to stop it. It would seem that, when you try to stop it, other people would repost the video or your efforts might even increase the demand for viewership. If SNL decides to make a parody of your video, it would be silly to try to fight them. You posted your video on a public domain and the Saturday Night Live television show is allowed to make a spoof/comedic representation of your video. If you video gets millions of views and it tarnishes your reputation, it is completely your fault. Every video you put up, and really any social media post you create, has the potential to gain fame and could be seen by millions. The individual should not post anything that he or she would not be comfortable spreading to large numbers of people. The person who put up the video has no rights to profit from the spoof and has no right to dictate whether or not SNL airs it – this would infringe upon SNL’s expression of free speech.
Christina Harper is a senior at Pepperdine University majoring in Integrated Marketing Communication.
Jon Pfeiffer is an experienced entertainment and copyright trial attorney practicing in Santa Monica. Jon is also an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California where he teaches Media Law. COM 570 covers First Amendment issues as well as copyright, defamation and privacy.