Everything on the Net isn’t free


“I wasn’t diving into this looking for a payday.”

— Alfonzo Cutaia

“You should ensure that you have all the necessary rights to commercially use all content in a video.”

— YouTube policy statement

Being a native of western New York, I take a lot of grief about the area where I grew up. Winters, Super Bowls, winters, hockey, winters, Dingus Day and winters are pretty frequent topics. The truth is, the Niagara Frontier Region was a great place to grow up and central Ohio really doesn’t know how good it has it between November and March.

Never was that more apparent than the week of Nov. 14-21, 2014. During that week, a confluence of meteorological factors set up the “perfect storm” of lake-effect snow over a consistent and narrow band just south of Buffalo. Hardest hit was the village of Lancaster, New York (a town that places the emphasis on a different syllable than Lancaster, Ohio).

In the matter of a just a few days, a lake-effect snow band established itself over Lancaster and parts of nearby towns and just sat there, dumping more and more snow with each passing day. For those who have never lived in the shadow of one of the Great Lakes, lake-effect snow is a phenomenon in which cold air passes over warm water, causing water to evaporate into the warming air. As that air passes back over land, it cools again, can no longer hold as much moisture, and drops that moisture as snow.

These lake-effect snow bands general drift around, pushed by shifting winds. Some areas are more prone than others due to geography, but the bands tend to move as weather patterns shift from hour to hour or day to day. The town I grew up (or, more appropriately, on), Grand Island, sits in the middle of the Niagara River right on the Niagara Peninsula, and doesn’t get nearly as much lake effect as the towns south of Buffalo, like Lancaster.

The third week of November, the snow band set up and stayed put. My aunt, uncle and two cousins live within eight miles of one another in Lancaster. One cousin got seven feet of snow in seven days. Her sister got eight inches of snow just a few miles away. That’s how narrow and specific the snow band was.

From his office in downtown Buffalo, Alfonzo Cutaia had a spectacular view of the evaporating water over Lake Erie. He also had a new iPhone 6 with a time-lapse video function. He set the phone up and created an amazing 32-second video that perfectly captures the mechanics of lake-effect snow. He uploaded the video to YouTube under the name “Buffalo Lake Effect.” It remains there and now has just under 4 million views. Because of its visual qualities and brevity, it’s a perfect video for news organizations.

Cutaia quickly got requests from various media sources to use the clip and he gave many of them permission. But he saw that the video was being used — both in broadcasts and online — by CNN and the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. (CBC), without his permission. He contacted them and demanded that they take the videos down or get permission. As of this week, CBC stories on the storm still have the video embedded in them. Worse yet, the CBC usage doesn’t link back to the original, but to a copy that the CBC illegally put on their own web servers — allowing them to get all advertising revenue from views.

Most YouTube users wouldn’t have any idea what to do next. Unfortunately for the CBC and CNN, Alfonzo Cutaia shot his video from the downtown offices of the law firm of Hodgson Russ, where he specializes in intellectual property law. Last week, another lawyer in the firm filed a lawsuit on behalf of Cutaia, accusing CNN and CBC of copyright infringement and seeking unspecified damages.

According to a report in The Buffalo News, Cutaia says he didn’t shoot the video, nor has he filed the lawsuit, looking for a big payday, but that he felt he was in a unique position to help protect the little guy from large media sources stealing their work. CNN and CBC declined to comment in various news reports about the lawsuit.

If you go to YouTube to watch the video, know that the huge sheets of white that you see throughout it are not snowflakes falling down, but mountainous sheets of water vapor evaporating up, water vapor that would shortly become seven feet of snow on top of the residents of Lancaster, New York.


David Hejmanowski is the judge of the Probate/Juvenile Division of Delaware County Common Pleas Court. Despite Buffalo’s famous winters, the last snow day he had as a kid was in the fourth grade.

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