Internet personality Logan Paul, who has millions of subscribers on his YouTube channel, has been sued for copyright infringement. The Complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, alleges that his composition “No Handlebars” willfully infringes on an original composition by Flobots titled, “Handlebars.” The original was written and recorded in 2005. Paul released “No Handlebars” in November 2017.
The lawsuit claims that Paul copied “Handlebars” without a license or consent. It further states that Paul misappropriated “quantitively and qualitatively important portions” of the original work in a manner that is easily discerned by an ordinary observer. This claim is likely made to proactively fight against what will certainly be a fair use defense put forward by Paul in a future filing.
Logan Paul should have a strong fair use defense to the copyright infringement lawsuit.
The amount and substantiality of the portion taken by Paul should be a pertinent part of any fair use analysis. The less Paul grabbed from the original, the better chance he has to succeed on a fair use defense. Further, from a qualitative standpoint, if Paul took what is deemed to be the “heart” of the work, then it makes it more difficult for him to prevail on this fair use element.
That analysis concerning qualitative portions taken from the original version shifts when the newer, potentially infringing, content is intended to be a parody. Then, not only is the new author typically able to incorporate more of the original work, he may also be able to go right to the heart of the original. One of the more cited to cases in this area is the U.S. Supreme Court decision from 1994 in Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, when the court stated, “the heart is also what most readily conjures up the [original] for parody, and it is the heart at which parody takes aim.”
Another factor that should prove important in a potential fair use analysis is the purpose and character of Paul’s use. Was it closer to pure copying or did Paul sufficiently transform the original into something that displays new, creative elements?
It appears that Paul’s creation was purely parody and that it was absolutely transformative. Further, it reminds me of works by “Weird Al” Yankovic, who made a career out of transforming others’ original works in the form of parodies. The nuance is that Yankovic does seek permission from the original artists, whereas Paul did not in this instance. However, just because Yankovic has chosen to do business in such a manner does not mean that all others must fall in line. Paul could easily still challenge the plaintiffs and seems to have a strong likelihood of prevailing on the merits.