Ray William Johnson, one of the first YouTubers to hit Internet fame, has built quite a business on YouTube over the years with estimated earnings upwards of $500K a year, according to Social Blade.
A large contributor to that success has been Johnson’s flagship show “Equals Three,” better known by its symbolic representation “=3.” But over the course of the coming weeks, Ray William Johnson and his legal team will carry the burden of defending “=3” against Jukin Media at trial for using 17 different videos in the show without obtaining the licensing rights. Opening remarks commence tomorrow, March 1st, in downtown Los Angeles, and Johnson, who claims “=3”’s unlicensed use of clips and videos from around the web fall under the jurisdiction of Fair Use, will look to prove his case in front of a jury.
“=3” is a YouTube version of E!’s “Talk Soup,” a clip-based show hosted by Joel McHale, or Comedy Central’s “Tosh.0.” Each week, Ray William Johnson gives a run down of hot clips from the week accompanied by his witty commentary. In the dall, Johnson was reported as having won the case against Jukin when a judge ruled that it could not be determined on basis of law alone and would need to go in front of a jury. According to the decision written byJudge Stephen V. Wilson of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, “Equals Three’s use of Jukin’s videos is admittedly commercial. Nevertheless, the commercial nature of the use is outweighed by the episode’s transformativeness.”
While the ruling was hailed as a big win for creators, Johnson and his team still have to prove that each of the 17 videos used from Jukin’s creators was within the realm of Fair Use.
Fair Use is becoming a default claim for publishers and creators across the internet, who oft cite that content is being altered or used in a way that is adding to the dialogue as news. Unfortunately, the laws is quite nuanced, as most are, and the claims are not as cut and dry as most creators seem to believe.
Should Ray William Johnson lose this case, it would not only be landmark for the industry as setting a standard for Fair Use stipulations for YouTube and open-Internet creators, but for also Johnson himself, who could at that point be liable and subject to numerous claims by other major media companies or creators.