One of the funniest shows on television these days is a program called "Nathan For You" on Comedy Central. The premise of the show surrounds Nathan Fielder, a business school graduate, who gives advice to struggling small businesses in order to improve their situation. The advice is often outlandish, counter-productive, and severely misguided. One recent episode centered around a small coffee shop unable to contend with big chains like Starbucks. So in order to compete Nathan advises the shop’s owner to become "Dumb Starbucks." In other words, he urges the shop to become exactly like a Starbucks in every way to lure customers, but use parody laws to skirt copyright by branding everything in the shop as "Dumb." The stunt sparked a firestorm of media attention earlier this year, and it was fun watching the stunt unfold on television. But little did I know that I myself would find myself mired in the murky legalities of parody law.
Earlier this week my wife was browsing the Comedy Central website, looking for a clip from the show "Drunk History." If you aren’t familiar with "Drunk History" it is, according to Wikipedia, a series where in each episode "an inebriated narrator struggles to recount an event from American history, while actors enact the narrator’s anecdote and lip synch the dialog."
I casually glanced on the screen from afar and saw something troublingly familiar. "Wait! Go back!" I said, and as I moved in closer I noticed a Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle. Not just any Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle, but one of my images of a Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle! The image had been Photoshopped to depict Lady Liberty holding aloft a "Boot" of beer and a bottle of wine while she stands on a barrel. The reverse featured the eagle holding a six-pack of beer in its beak. There were five beers so presumably the eagle had already consumed one of the beers in the six-pack.
I immediately went onto PCGS CoinFacts to confirm my suspicions, and very quickly identified the coin as the CoinFacts plate coin for the 1920 Regular Strike double eagle graded MS65, an Eliasberg/Duckor pedigree.
Obviously some designer at Comedy Central found the image through a Google Image Search and just felt free to tamper with it. My image! PCGS intellectual property!
What to do? This was my image, but I also have a sense of humor and this is clearly parody and theoretically falls under fair use. Any sort of legal action against Comedy Central seemed over the top and unnecessary. But I needed to somehow defend my work. So I decided to voice my indignation on the internet. The world would hear my plight! There would be mass outrage! This would go viral! Comedy Central would have to relent from public pressure! But no, this was not to happen. I was, predictably, ignored.
Not only was the photo on the "Drunk History" website, but it has been included on every aspect of the show’s social media presence (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) since June 5th.
Typically, image came along with the caption, "On this day in #DrunkHistory, the U.S. went off the gold standard, making drunken rants about the economy that much more confusing."
Since the image was not geared towards numismatists, a great many of the comments were not about the lovely MS65 example of a rare coin, but rather off-color comments on Lady Liberty’s physical appearance. I made posts in reply to the images on the various social media outlets, but since the posts were almost two months old they were not getting as many views as it would have back on June 5th.
While my posts on Facebook and Instagram were well received by my friends and family, they did not get much attention beyond those people, despite the fact that I tagged @ComedyCentral and @DrunkHistory in the posts. Twitter is a different animal for me, as I do not have very many people who follow me for the word to get out.
A single tweet is useless, so I went about posting a great many Tweets mentioning Comedy Central and Drunk History, including photos of my original image compared to the altered image, while adding a variety of hashtags to get attention (ie #stolen #photography #gold4booze etc).
While I did get a few "favorites" and a couple of "retweets", it has been all for naught.
Ultimately my social media goal was just to get a little recognition from Comedy Central for using the photo, and maybe get a little something for my troubles. This was "Drunk History" after all, and I figured the least they could do was to offer me a drink.
So, after being thoroughly ignored, what’s the next tactic?
All of these social media outlets allow you to report various posts. Also, Comedy Central’s website has a section on Copyright Compliance. It explicitly states "We take protection of copyrights, both our own and others, very seriously. We therefore employ multiple measures to prevent copyright infringement over this Site and to promptly end any infringement that might occur." It also contains information on how to send a notice of copyright infringement to an agent at Comedy Central. But reporting Comedy Central for something so absolutely silly makes me feel like kind of a wet blanket. However, this is my work and PCGS’ intellectual property we’re talking about. We take coins seriously.
So I ask you, reader, what should I do?
Report Comedy Central and hold them to their copyright compliance standards?
Would that even do anything due to Fair Use?
Or should I intensify my social media campaign, meagre as it is?
Or should I just forget about it, have a drink, and enjoy the fact that our work was used to make people laugh?
Please email me at [email protected] with your thoughts and suggestions.