helenlt on October 7th, 2013
When news of this story hit the Copyright Office it generated a lot of interest from us unapologetic copyright nerds. Our story begins as it often does in a tale of infringement with a takedown notice being sent via Youtube. Youtube has an automated content management system that allows copyright owners and rights holders to track whether or not their works appear on Youtube. If their work is found on Youtube, rights holders then have the option of allowing the material to stay, attaching ads to the video to generate an income or demanding that the video be taken down. So in our tale, Australian music label, Liberation, found an excerpt of one of their songs being used in a Youtube video and promptly sent a takedown notice. When a Youtube user receives a takedown notice, they can either accept the notice and take the video down or if they believe that their use of the copyright material is legitimate, they can send a counter notice demonstrating that they use is allowed under copyright law, usually relying on the fair use exception (if the work was posted in the US.). Many users are often unsure of their rights under copyright and will accept the takedown notice and remove the material unaware that their use might be covered by fair use. Unfortunately, for Liberation, the Youtube user in our story was Lawrence Lessig.
Lawrence Lessig is a professor at Harvard, one of the founders of Creative Commons and an expert in copyright law. If copyright had a rockstar, it would probably be Lawrence Lessig. Professor Lessig definitely knows his rights under copyright and so sent back a counter notice indicating that Liberation’s material was used under fair use and as such there was no infringement. In response, to Professor Lessig’s counter action, Liberation threatened legal action. So far, in our tale, these actions are very much part of the cut and thrust of copyright litigation, but then things get interesting.
You see Professor Lessig decided to take it one step further. Professor Lessig launched a counter-suit against Liberation for issuing a false takedown notice. The problem with the automated takedown system used by Youtube is that it doesn’t take into account any possible copyright exceptions, such as fair use, that allow the material to be used legitimately. As such, many rights holders are effectively issuing false takedown notices and get their copyright material removed when they don’t actually have the right to do so. Professor Lessig has decided to challenge this process via legal action, which could change the way takedown notice are handled. This is definitely one court case to watch and we’ll keep you posted.
You can read more about this story at Australian music label Liberation fights Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig over copyright