Monday, May 08, 2006

The Little Guys Take On Viacom and WIN!

I love NPR (National Public Radio). Although I read widely, I learn more from NPR's interviews than from any other single source.

I was sitting at my computer Monday morning around 5:30 when I caught mention of a news story I'd not heard anywhere else. I went hunting on the Internet for the details.

You'll recall that, on March 13, Viacom filed a billion dollar suit against YouTube and Google, alleging copyright infringement. Viacom, which owns Comedy Central and MTV, claimed that YouTube deliberately profits from the posting of copyrighted material on its video-sharing site. The lawsuit demanded that YouTube take down some 160,000 video clips, which Viacom insisted were proprietary.

Among those 160,000 video clips was one created by and Brave New Films, mocking the Comedy Central star Stephen Colbert and The Colbert Report. The clip used snippets from The Colbert Report in a parody of the show.

On March 21, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, representing, and the Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society, representing Brave New Films, filed suit against Viacom. The attorneys for the plaintiffs stated:

This is a civil action seeking injunctive relief and damages for misrepresentation of copyright infringement under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act ("DMCA"); and for declaratory relief.

This case arises out of Defendant's (Viacom) baseless assertion that Plaintiffs' video, "Stop the Falsiness," infringes copyrights owned or controlled by Defendant. This assertion is false, but has nonetheless resulted in the removal of Plaintiff's video from the popular Internet media website, YouTube.

Viacom's general counsel wrote to the EFF, saying, "Your complaint is the first information we have received about this clip . . . We maintain careful records of all of our takedown notices, so any takedown notice most likely did not come from us."

Unfortunately, Viacom's records were not as good as they thought. A notice HAD been sent to YouTube to remove "Stop the Falsiness" from the website.

The EFF's argument was that "Stop the Falsiness" was protected under the "Fair Use" doctrine, which says that a parody functions as a form of critique. Fair Use clearly permits use of copyrighted material as the object of social, political or cultural critique.

Viacom agreed. On April 23, according to InformationWeek, Viacom "admitted that it improperly tried to take down a parody of The Colbert Report from YouTube, and it announced a policy to be more careful in dealing with potential copyright violations."

"Stop the Falsiness" is now back up on YouTube. You can see it here.

If you're interested in hearing the NPR story about parody being an exception to copyright law, go here.

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