US Congress publishes press release made of copyright-violating animated GIFs

The House Judiciary Committee, chaired by one of the sponsors of SOPA, shows its complete disregard for both good taste and copyright in a shocking display of GIF overload.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

It's hard to say that Congress has sunk to a new low, because, well, it's Congress. If the United States Congress has one stand-out skill, it is its stubborn unwillingness to represent the interests of American citizens.

But wow. This one takes the cake.

On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee published what it called a press release on its Web site. To appreciate the true gloriousness of what the Judiciary Committee hath wrought, you have to click in and look at it (assuming they didn't wise up and delete the thing by the time you're reading this). Go ahead. I'll wait. You'll want to come back and talk about it.

We are talking about a "press release" consisting of ten animated GIFs of the sort you might see on Reddit or in your Facebook feed. The overall theme is a rant about President Obama and whether he is going to enforce immigration laws.

Enforcing laws. That seems to make sense coming from the Judiciary committee. Until you realize just how...ironic...this document really is.

Let's bypass the whole "what were they thinking" train of thought about using animated GIFs in a press release. Sure, they may be trying to appeal to the cool kids, but the cool kids don't read Judiciary committee press releases. We, the press, do. And animated GIFs (unless they're of cats or puppies) don't do it for us.

No, I'm going for the online piracy jugular of the Judiciary committee. You see, the press release is chock full of animations protected by copyright law. Stick with me for a minute. I'll show you how completely... just wait. You'll see.

Here are the media properties shown in the document:

  • A clip from the 2012 movie, Pitch Perfect
  • A BuzzFeed-like talking head GIF of actress Jennifer Lawrence
  • A clip from the 2000 movie, Bring It On
  • A clip from the Disney blockbuster, The Little Mermaid
  • A clip from The Office TV series
  • A clip of actress Kristen Wiig, which our editors think came from Saturday Night Live
  • A clip of actress Alison Brie from the NBC TV series Community
  • Another clip from Bring It On
  • A clip of actress Emma Stone on a TV talk show
  • And, finally, a clip our editors think may be Britney Spears on the Tonight Show

All of these were run, clearly without licensing, on a Web page produced by the House Judiciary Committee.

Is a screen grab of a section of the House Judiciary Committee press release fair use? We think so.

You might even say these clips were pirated from their rightful owners. You might then say that this is a perfect example of online piracy.

Of course, the more clear-eyed of you out there might point out that such short clips could also be considered fair use. And you'd probably be right. And that brings me to the point I've been leading up to.

Remember, back in 2011, when the Web went dark to prevent the SOPA bill from passing. That was the Stop Online Piracy Act and it was basically designed to pretty much deny us all sorts of rights online, a golden platter gift wrapped up and delivered to the lobbyists who bought and paid for our elected representatives.

So, guess, Dear Reader, who sponsored SOPA? Yep, most of the members of the current House Judiciary Committee.

See Chairman Bob Goodlatte's name at the very top? He was a sponsor of SOPA. So were other current House Judiciary Committee members Lamar Smith, Steven Chabot, John Conyers, Judy Chu, and Ted Deutch.

These six (three Dem and three GOP) spent a tremendous effort to destroy fair use for all Americans and here they are, a few years later, violating copyright and just barely hanging onto a fair use thread, right on the official site of the Judiciary Committee.

Oh, and for a bill talking about immigration, one of our editors pointed this out as a final irony: "13 people and 1 mermaid in those GIFs, every single one white."

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