Saturday, March 6, 2010

Bogus Copyright Claim Silences Yet Another Larry Lessig YouTube Presentation; TechDirt, 3/2/10

Mike Masnick, TechDirt; Bogus Copyright Claim Silences Yet Another Larry Lessig YouTube Presentation:

"Nearly a year ago, we wrote about how a YouTube presentation done by well known law professor (and strong believer in fair use and fixing copyright law), Larry Lessig, had been taken down, because his video, in explaining copyright and fair use and other such things, used a snippet of a Warner Music song to demonstrate a point. There could be no clearer example of fair use -- but the video was still taken down. There was some dispute at the time as to whether or not this was an actual DMCA takedown, or merely YouTube's audio/video fingerprinting technology (which the entertainment industry insists can understand fair use and not block it). But, in the end, does it really make a difference? A takedown over copyright is a takedown over copyright.

Amazingly enough, it appears that almost the exact same thing has happened again. A video of one of Lessig's presentations, that he just posted -- a "chat" he had done for the OpenVideoAlliance a week or so ago, about open culture and fair use, has received notice that it has been silenced. It hasn't been taken down entirely -- but the entire audio track from the 42 minute video is completely gone. All of it. In the comments, some say there's a notification somewhere that the audio has been disabled because of "an audio track that has not been authorized by WMG" (Warner Music Group) -- which would be the same company whose copyright caused the issue a year ago -- but I haven't seen or heard that particular message anywhere.

However, Lessig is now required to fill out a counternotice challenging the takedown -- while silencing his video in the meantime:

While you can still see the video on YouTube, without the audio, it's pretty much worthless. Thankfully, the actual video is available elsewhere, where you can both hear and see it. But, really, the fact that Lessig has had two separate videos -- both of which clearly are fair use -- neutered due to bogus copyright infringement risks suggests a serious problem. I'm guessing that, once again, this video was likely caught by the fingerprinting, rather than a direct claim by Warner Music. In fact, the issue may be the identical one, as I believe the problem last year was the muppets theme, which very, very briefly appears in this video (again) as an example of fair use in action. But it was Warner Music and others like it that demanded Google put such a fingerprinting tool in place (and such companies are still talking about requiring such tools under the law). And yet, this seems to show just how problematic such rules are.

Even worse, this highlights just how amazingly problematic things get when you put secondary liability on companies like Google. Under such a regime, Google would of course disable such a video, to avoid its own liability. The idea that Google can easily tell what is infringing and what is not is proven ridiculous when something like this is pulled off-line (or just silenced). When a video about fair use itself is pulled down for a bogus copyright infringement, it proves the point. The unintended consequences of asking tool providers to judge what is and what is not copyright infringement lead to tremendous problems with companies shooting first and asking questions later. They are silencing speech, on the threat that it might infringe on copyright.

This is backwards.

We live in a country that is supposed to cherish free speech, not stifle it in case it harms the business model of a company. We live in a country that is supposed to encourage the free expression of ideas -- not lock it up and take it down because one company doesn't know how to adapt its business model. We should never be silencing videos because they might infringe on copyright.

Situations like this demonstrate the dangerous unintended consequences of secondary liability. At least with Lessig, you have someone who knows what happened, and knows how to file a counternotice -- though, who knows how long it will take for this situation to be corrected. But for many, many, many other people, they are simply silenced. Silenced because of industry efforts to turn copyright law into something it was never intended to be: a tool to silence the wider audience in favor of a few large companies.

The system is broken. When even the calls to fix the system are silenced by copyright claims, isn't it time that we fixed the system?"

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