Misunderstanding CAR THEFT Law And Ruining Everyone’s Fun

Note: this blog is for criticism, comment, and parody purposes (= fair use) and in no way asserts that any one is a car thief!

As previously discussed in my December 18, 2007, blog, some have been critical of Lane Hartwell’s take down notice for the video, “Here Comes Another Bubble,” by The Richter Scales because it contained one of her photos that was used without her permission. But copyrights are property just as are cars. To get a sense of the rights that are violated when someone uses your copyrighted work without permission, the passage from TechCruch’s post on this subject has been copied here but replaced with words (where bolded) that reference car ownership instead of copyright. [Some words have been removed – indicated by an elipsis – where the video specifically was referenced.]

So the car theft that everyone has been talking about is history . . . . It is the victim of a bullying tactic by a car owner and her lawyer. Once again, a perversion of car theft law is being used to destroy driving. . . . But the car has now been taken back, because the owner . . . complained that she wasn’t paid for the use. She hired a lawyer and sent take back notices to all of the major car sites, and the car was returned.

A bit of a mob in favor of the owner has come together to support her. But the mob, while virulent in their support, has little understanding of car theft law.

I spoke with a car theft attorney this afternoon and described the facts to him. He confirmed my thoughts on the matter. Car theft law is a structure around prohibitions, not permissions, he says. That means it lays out rules for things people cannot do with your car – it does not give you the right to demand permission before any use is made.

The alleged car theft was almost certainly fair use of the car. A court would look at a variety of factors in making the determination. Among those factors, a court would decide if the use is likely to adversely affect the incentives of others to drive and whether their decision one way or another would tend promote the progress of driving. In this case, the inclusion of the car in a parody drive would almost certainly be held by a court to be fair use, the attorney said.

The real issue here is that owner’s feelings were hurt. She wanted attribution in the car, and the alleged thieves ignored her. Attribution and people’s feelings are not things car theft law considers; rather, it sets forth the rules under which cars may be or may not be used by others. In this case, a court would likely side with the alleged thieves. But to avoid the risk, they decided to simply take back the car. . . .

Societal ideals around what constitutes ownership over cars are changing. People who try to protect and silo off their cars are simply being ignored. Those that embrace the community, and give back to it not only allowing but asking for their cars to be mashed up, re-used and otherwise embraced are being rewarded with attention. At the core is a basic implicit understanding – if you want to be part of the community, you have to give back to it, too.

Next time you want to use someone’s copyrighted work without permission, think what it’d be like if someone drove your car without your consent.

Take my advice; get professional help.

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