In the month or so that This Charming Charlie—that Tumblr mash-up featuring Schulz panels with Smiths lyrics—came into existence, it has become a media favorite covered by the likes of Esquire and Rolling Stone. Gawker called it art of an “existential genius that stands proudly alongside such predecessors as Garfield Minus Garfield and the “Nietzche Family Circus” and the Huffington Post went simply with “best tumblr ever.”
Then last week, perhaps because of all the media attention, This Charming Charlie creator and artist Lauren LoPrete began getting DMCA-takedown letters from Universal Music Publishing Group. UMPG had removed 6 panels by the time she posted the update, and was getting new notices for others every hour. Contrary to LoPrete’s rather defeated-sounding post titled “I know it’s over,” she now has no plans to acquiesce .
“I got that [DMCA] email tuesday and have received a flood of offers from lawyers to take the case pro-bono” wrote LoPrete via IM, “mostly lawyers that specialize in internet law and online free speech which is really cool.”
Tumblr’s DMCA Copyright policy is a lot like YouTube’s in that it is automatic and tends to favor corporations over individual creators in that the creator can’t fight the take-down until after the fact. LoPrete’s notice, for instance, reads:
"Pursuant to the requirements of 17 U.S.C. Section 512(c), we are expeditiously removing this content. If you believe this notification was submitted to us in error, please file a counter-notification according to the instructions here: http://www.tumblr.com/policy/en/terms_of_service#dmca."
LoPrete is currently in the process of filing counter-notifications, with the help of lawyers, for each individual panel on the grounds that the work falls under the fair use clause in copyright law.
Shaun Spalding, an intellectual property attorney focusing on internet-related issues not working with LoPrete, also found This Charming Charlie to be fair use given both copyrighted material has been altered.
“That transformation, along with the fact that short snippets of the lyrics are used (generally 1 to 2 bars of lyrics), make it look like Universal may simply want to silence the site because it can (and because it potentially wants to silence copycats), rather than because of clear copyright violations,” wrote Spalding in an email.
Universal’s decision to file takedowns doesn’t surprise Spalding, as they have a history of being “pretty touchy” with their property before comparing it to their fight against lyric sites with banner ads as an explanation perhaps as to why they are so aggressive. LoPrete has no intention of using the posts to make money, however, and had actually stopped posting new panels until she received the take-down notices.
“I think the reason I want to fight the DCMA notifications is due to a bigger frustration with Big Music and the publishing companies,” wrote LoPrete.“It's the same angst thats in The Smiths lyrics, like shoplifters of the world unite and take over.”