Green Day’s Run in With Copy Infringement

Green Day is a very popular punk rock band that most people can recognize the name to from popular songs like “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and “21 Guns”. But someone else recognized something very familiar to them in the backdrop of one of their performances at the MTV Video Music Awards. And in the video to the Green Day song, “East Jesus Nowhere” the artist Derek Seltzer saw his image Scream Icon being used. Derek Seltzer sued Green Day for copyright infringement in March 2010 saying that the band had no right to use his work without permission. Roger Staub was the video designer who made the backdrop and had altered the image for the band by putting a brick wall behind the Scream Icon and put a red spray painted cross over the image as well.

And an original picture of Seltzer’s art can be seen here alongside the changed image:

The changed version of Seltzer’s art can also be seen here in the music video:

Because the Seltzer’s image had been altered, Green Day argued that the image didn’t even portray the same message anymore. The image had been transformed to show a belief about religion. The image that Green Day had displayed in the music video also wasn’t being over exposed and Green Day wasn’t marketing the image to make a profit for themselves. The image was simply created by Staub to represent the lyrics to Green Day’s song. Seltzer also tried to argue in court that there was “unfair competition, false designation of origin, and false representation of affiliation under the Lanham Act” for his artwork (Tushnet). The Lanham Act is the system of federal trademark registration so that whoever has a trademark is protected from other people using what is trademarked by them. But Seltzer could not prove that his image was trademarked and Green Day did not use the transformed image in a trademarked form. It made it even harder for him because his image had already been spread across the internet in various forms as well so why weren’t those considered copyright infringement to him? Was this really about his artwork or about money? The motives of the artist can really be debated as to whether he was trying to protect his intellectual property or trying to start a high profile case with a successful band and make a profit.

Kant said that the “main point of the enlightenment [is] man’s emergence from his self-imposed nonage”. Man is supposed to come to an understanding of the world around him to see what the world is really like. Because as Kant says only until “such men have thrown off the yoke of nonage, they will spread about them the spirit of a reasonable appreciation of man’s value and of his duty to think for himself”. Kant would probably disagree with the decision that the court made by saying the artist’s work was transcended and didn’t represent the original image. The image to Kant would still be unoriginal because it comes from Seltzer’s ideas originally. Milton thinks that “to regulate Printing, [so] That no Book, pamphlet, or paper shall be henceforth Printed, unlesse the same be first approv’d and licenc’t”so he probably would see that the image has been changed by Green Day’s video director but they did not ask for permission from Seltzer which is what Milton is against. Milton wants people’s work to be protected in order for the owner to have all of his rights intact. Lessig also holds a theory on intellectual porperty that “[t]hese parts of our culture, these lawyers will tell you, are the property of the few… law of copyright makes them so, even though the law of copyright was never meant to create any such power” for people to take and make artists’ work their own. Lawyers hold strongly on to copyright laws to protect people’s intellectual property as far as the law will stretch.

In the end, Green Day only had to pay the attorney’s fees. Seltzer could not properly come up with a case that proved he trademarked his work and that the band was using the image to make money from his idea and Green Day did nothing to hurt the market or consumer value for Scream Icon. The ending of the court case can be looked at in multiple ways like that artists can be continued to be stepped and their work manipulated by others, or this can be looked at as how to prevent copyright infringement in the future.



One thought on “Green Day’s Run in With Copy Infringement

  1. Sarah,

    This is excellent. My only suggestion (and you really should follow up on this) is to insert the pictures directly into the post, rather than just have links. If you don’t know how to do that, just look it up on WordPress’s support page.

    Grade: S.


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