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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Student Note Title Hall of Shame: YouTube Edition

Overtly cutesy article titles annoy me. It’s a particularly severe problem with student notes. Yes, it may have been Bluebooked top-to-bottom and back-to-front. But why didn’t anyone ever pull the author aside and say, “Kid, about that title … ?” I keep a file of terrible article titles, a file full of bad puns, out-of-context song lyrics, and failed jokes. Lately, I’ve noticed a worrying trend of ill-considered titles for articles about the YouTube copyright litigation. That YouTube’s defenses are in part based on the Section 512 “safe harbor” from copyright liability has inspired not just the usual bad names, but some truly regrettable nautical puns:

  • Jason C. Breen, YouTube or YouLose: Can YouTube Survive a Copyright Infringement Lawsuit?, 16 Tex. Intell. Prop. L.J. 151 (2007)
  • Amy R. Mellow, … And the Ruling on the Field is Fair: A Fair Use Analysis of Uploading NFL Videos onto YouTube and Why the NFL Should License Its Material to the Website, 17 S. Cal. Interdis. L.J. 173 (2007)
  • Michael Driscoll, Will YouTube Sail into the DMCA’s Safe Harbor or Sink for Internet Piracy?, 6 J. Marshall Rev. Intell. Prop. L. 550 (2007)
  • Lauren Brittain Patten, From Safe Harbor to Choppy Waters: YouTube, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and a Much Needed Change of Course, 10 Vand. J. Ent. & Tech. L. 179 (2007)
  • Kurt Hunt, Copyright and YouTube: Pirate’s Playground or Fair Use Forum?, 14 Mich. Telecomm. Tech. L. Rev. 197 (2007)
  • Jonathan J. Darrow & Gerald R. Ferrera, Social Networking Web Sites and the DMCA: A Safe-Harbor from Copyright Infringement Liability or the Perfect Storm?, 6 Nw. J. Tech. & Intell. Prop. 1 (2007) (Messrs. Darrow and Ferrera are actually professors, and ought therefore to know better.)
  • Trevor Cloak, Note: The Digital Titanic: The Sinking of YouTube.com in the DMCA’s Safe Harbor., 60 Vand. L. Rev. 1559 (2007) (“At its current heading, YouTube, The Digital Titanic, is drifting towards an iceberg and will soon be leaving the placid safe harbor of the DMCA and entering the rocky seas of copyright liability.”)

Titles like these do authors no favors. Even when the article itself is solid scholarship, using such a silly title is like starting off a lecture by hitting yourself in the face with a cream pie. It’s hard to take what follows seriously.

Posted by James Grimmelmann on March 6, 2008 at 12:37 AM in Teaching Law | Permalink


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I had to laugh when I saw your (quite appropriate) criticism of my and Professor Ferrera's article title. The reality is that there is a marketplace for law review articles, with around 1,500 English-language law journals in the world that in the aggregate publish well over 10,000 legal articles per year. Just like any other consumable, articles must be marketed and compete for attention, and titles help to serve that function. It is arguably unfortunate that the result is sometimes overly-cute titles. On the other hand, some of those article titles (and I don't claim that mine is one of them) lend a measure of levity to the sometimes staid field of law. --Jonathan J. Darrow

Posted by: Jonathan Darrow | Feb 11, 2009 5:13:40 AM

In my defense, my note deals entirely with fair use, not the safe harbor. There was no nautical pun intended. I was merely trying to present the two basic opinions about YouTube, and used "pirate" because it's a word that tends to be favored by those who see collaborative media as a threat to content owners.

Of course, if you're condemning my title for being silly rather than punny, that's perfectly fair (no pun intended).

Posted by: Kurt Hunt | Mar 12, 2008 10:05:00 PM

By the way, I think Dave Hoffman commented on one-word article titles. I guess this formula goes to the opposite extreme:

title = Question presented with metaphorical flourishes designed to give an impression of the thematic unity of the possibilities the article raises

as in: Will the Inducement Liability Hurricane Sweep Into the DMCA Safe Harbor, or Will a Gulf Stream of Popular Support for the Good Ship YouTube Help Protect it (Though its Umbrella of Lawyers May Still Worry About a Waterspout of Inducement Liability or a Freak Hailstorm of Copyright Office Rulemaking)?

Posted by: Frank | Mar 6, 2008 6:59:52 PM

Some article title has a full sentence or so from that "Bye Bye Miss American Pie" song.

I'm surprised there's no "perfect storm" in any of the titles:

Anyway, thanks for pointing out this bizarre trend. Titles like these
might make it in a cultural studies journal, but are not exactly going to win over policymakers.

Posted by: Frank | Mar 6, 2008 6:54:34 PM

Good blog-post material doesn't just grow on trees.

Posted by: James Grimmelmann | Mar 6, 2008 4:10:30 PM

"I keep a file of terrible article titles, a file full of bad puns, out-of-context song lyrics, and failed jokes."


Posted by: dave hoffman | Mar 6, 2008 2:11:02 PM

Once I had occasion to look into how many law review articles had been published about the First Amendment rights of the homeless to solicit money from passers-by. It occurred to me before I conducted the search that at least one of them would have the expression "beggars' banquet" in the title, even though that expression had nothing to do with the subject matter. IIRC, there were at least two such articles.

Posted by: alkali | Mar 6, 2008 10:43:57 AM

I think you can understand WHY this happens, though: you want your note to jump out at the Westlaw searcher who is trying to decide which of the 200 or so search results so articles they should actually spend time reading.

But the point you've made in this last comment is the key one -- the pun or joke MUST have some connection to the actual article or else it's just silly.

Posted by: Jason | Mar 6, 2008 9:14:56 AM

I like "Textual Healing." I object to the strained jokes and the ones with no readily apparent connection to the subject of the paper.

Posted by: James Grimmelmann | Mar 6, 2008 9:07:31 AM

Actually, my "ire," as S.cotus puts it, is directed primarily at the editors and advisors who stand silently by while these clunkers see print. The student-note writers are new to this game and can be forgiven. It's the professors whom I think "ought . . . to know better." Also, while I haven't done a careful empirical study, it's my sense that the incidence of puns is higher in student article titles, and the incidence of failed puns is much higher.

Posted by: James Grimmelmann | Mar 6, 2008 9:04:57 AM

How 'bout the title of a student paper recently submitted to me in a statutory interpretation seminar: "Textual Healing."

Posted by: Amy Barrett | Mar 6, 2008 8:48:28 AM

The cute title wasn't invented by students. It was invented by professors. Yet, somehow you don't seem to have any ire directed towards them.

Posted by: S.cotus | Mar 6, 2008 6:00:24 AM

I think the obligatory title pun has been well-established as part and parcel of the student note genre.

Posted by: Miriam Cherry | Mar 6, 2008 4:22:51 AM

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