Raw Footage

A man who sought to capture and kill Bin Laden had his own film used against him. Is that fair use?

Remember Greg Shade? He sure wants you to, only not in the way he's depicted in American Hero, a short documentary that screened at last year's S.F. Independent Film Festival. That prompted Shade to sue the filmmakers in a legally significant federal case that a San Francisco law firm picked up pro bono.

Shade first made the news in 2002 with his post-9/11 travels to Afghanistan, where he distributed thousands of "Wanted" posters of terrorists, including Osama bin Laden. When he returned home, he asked film editor Daniel Gorman to make copies of Dan Rather's CBS report on his work. Shade also had Gorman edit 19 hours of footage he shot in Afghanistan, and work with him on a 20-minute documentary to show to Congress.

Although Gorman and Shade traveled to Washington, D.C., together to distribute an initial version of the film, the two eventually butted heads and parted ways. Gorman, however, still had access to the Afghanistan footage and used it in American Hero, which turned a critical eye on Shade. It included footage of him in a D.C. hotel room talking about his "duty" to "fuckin' murder all the bad guys." Although Gorman said he found Shade entertaining and intelligent, he also believed the man might be dangerously extreme.

After Shade saw American Hero, he apparently decided Gorman was toast. Shade created a Web site with a banner headline — "Daniel Patrick Gorman Felony Arrest Record" — that accused Gorman of using the footage without consent. "He used it to launch his career (whatever that may be)," Shade wrote, "and to highlight his horribly bad, bad poetry." Shade also posted Gorman's deposition and court documents on various Internet sites.

Last week, Shade called SF Weekly to say he had been investigating Gorman. "He made me look terrible," Shade said. "He said a whole bunch of things that are incorrect. I'll tell you guys the truth."

In the Northern District court, Shade sued Gorman for copyright infringement, breach of contract, and computer fraud. When the case came to the attention of Farella, Braun & Martel, the law firm took Gorman's case pro bono. The suit is legally significant, intellectual property lawyer Deepak Gupta said, because it's on the cutting edge of fair-use law. Lawyers were prepared to argue that regardless of Shade's ownership interest in the footage, Gorman's use was privileged because it was critical and commenting on a political issue.

But they never got the chance. After the parties settled their lawsuit on March 24, Shade called back to say he could no longer comment.

 
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