juan-di-nella-969-unsplashTelevision can be fertile ground for copyright lawsuits, given the amount of creative work that goes into producing a single episode of original programming, to say nothing of the hundreds of scripted programs that now exist across the largest number of channels and streaming platforms that have ever existed in the history of the medium. But not all lawsuits are the same, and not every case is an example of an entertainment company taking advantage of a creator (though those undoubtedly exist in substantial numbers.)

HBO recently won a copyright infringement case involving a graffiti artist and its short-lived series Vinyl. Itoffee Gayle, the graffiti artist who brought the suit against HBO, claims that the company infringed upon his work when a dumpster tagged with the phrase "art we all" was featured in a scene of the show (to the extent that a dumpster can be a featured player.) Gayle's suit claimed that HBO never tried to contact him to license his work and as such violated his copyright and tradeamrk rights.

However, the case was dismissed by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York as an instance of copying that did not meet the criteria of being unlawful. In his ruling, District Judge Jesse M. Furman cited the de minimis exception to copyright law, meaning that the alleged infringement did not meet the standard to be considered for such a suit. In this instance, the graffiti in question is on the aforementioned dumpster which is in the background of that particular scene, and is only visible to the viewer for two to three seconds, almost impossible to spot in real-time viewing as noted in the ruling. While Gayle argues that the copying was intentional on the part of HBO, the ruling also notes that intent is irrelevant given the suit's inability to pass the de minimis threshold.

While there is often the impulse to side with artists and creators when it comes to cases of infringement, it's important to maintain the rights of all to fair use in order to allow work to continue in a variety of fields without being bogged down with a stream of endless litigation. With the lawsuit dismissed, HBO can get back to its most important task: tamping down Game of Thrones piracy of the non-Sallador Saan variety.

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