In early 2007, Stephanie Lenz recorded a video of her children dancing to the song “Let’s Go Crazy” recorded by Prince. She uploaded the recording to Youtube and, roughly three months later, received a takedown notice from Youtube notifying her that the video infringed on a copyright held by Universal Music. Lenz issued a complaint stating that the video was actually a Fair Use of Prince’s music and should therefore be put back onto Youtube. She said her video was not taken down based “on a particular characteristic of the video or any good-faith belief that it actually infringed a copyright,” but rather Prince’s personal desire to control all of his work. The plaintiffs in this case accept that the video includes elements that are under copyright by Prince and Universal. Their argument is whether or not the Digital Millennium Copyright Act “requires a copyright owner to consider the fair use doctrine in formulating a good faith belief that use of the material in the manner complained of is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law.” The judge in this case noted that no other court case has actually determined the merits of whether the phrase quoted above pertains to Fair Use. The judge determined that, despite no previous ruling, Fair Use is not an infringement of copyright and is a lawful use of the copyright. The court thus ordered that a brief review of potentially infringing material must be completed by content owners prior to sending a Takedown notice, to ensure whether it is a Fair Use.
This decision strengthens my paper’s argument that many potentially infringing videos on Youtube may, in fact, be examples of Fair Use. While only a small percentage of songs available on file sharing websites could be constituted as Fair Use due to the skill required to sufficiently transform songs, many videos on Youtube may be shielded from unwarranted takedown notices because of this ruling, due to the fact that transforming and mashing video clips is much easier than transforming songs. The complaint that a large portion of Youtube’s videos are copyright infringing and that Youtube encourages such videos is thus proven false. In reality, many of these “infringing” videos actually make up the user-generated content that embodies the spirit of Youtube: a community of Web 2.0 users producing unique and individual content to share with others. Had this decision not been made, unchecked takedown notices could have harmed time-sensitive and important videos that were actually examples of Fair Use. While Universal argued that this checking for Fair Use is an unnecessary waste of time, the Judge was quick to point out that the Copyright Act of 1976 established 4 simple, quick factors for determining Fair Use. This decision upholds the hard work of individuals who successfully transform copyrighted material, and it prevents large corporations and recording artists from overreaching their bounds by unfairly removing Fair Use videos. Youtube’s legitimacy as a website made up of a majority of unique material is thus upheld.
This article discusses the development of the DMCA and the reasons it was drafted. The author describes in depth the protection guaranteed by the Safe Harbor law before he begins to describe the development of the DMCA. Because I have discussed Safe Harbor elsewhere, I will focus on the part of the article detailing the creation of the DMCA, beginning in section C. In 1993, President Clinton created a task force designed to “fine tune” copyright laws to make them relevant in the digital world. A preliminary report ruled that ISPs be held wholly liable for infringement. ISPs immediately retaliated, claiming that under this law they would be liable whenever their users sent infringing works across their networks. They also argued that the law would require them to monitor their users’ transmissions while trying to detect copyrighted material, thus violating their users’ First Amendment Rights. Representative Rick Boucher argued that “Congress should provide ISPs with an incentive to invest in the development of computer networks without fear of litigation.” ISPs rationalized that they should only be liable if they have knowledge of the infringements. Copyright holders, however, argued that giving ISPs freedom from liability would encourage them to purposefully allow infringement on their servers. Because of the stark contrasts in opinion between the groups, a decision was not reached immediately. After months of negotiations between ISPS and Copyright Holders, the Online Copyright Infringement Liability Act was introduced in February 1997, which sought to protect ISPs from Direct Liability and monetary damages if they were not aware of “information indicating that the material is infringing.” In House Bill 3209, the Senate created the “red-flag test” for ISPs to use to determine infringement. ISPs did not have to monitor for infringement, but if they became aware of a “red-flag,” they would lose Safe Harbor protection unless they removed the content immediately.
This article is very important for my paper because it addresses the attitudes of both ISPs and Copyright Holders before the creation of the DMCA. Without the DMCA in place, both these groups were forced to come up with their own arguments to defend themselves, something ISPs are much less likely to do now that they can simply hide behind the Safe Harbor clause of the DMCA. The interesting aspect of this article, however, is that many, if not all, of the concerns of ISPs and Copyright Holders made their way into the finalized version of the DMCA. ISPs, such as Youtube today, were worried that they would violate their users’ rights if forced to monitor for copyright violations. Thus, the DMCA was written so that the burden fell on Copyright Holders to identify infringing material and report it to the ISPs. Similarly, the Copyright Holders were worried ISPs would turn a blind eye towards infringement, so the DMCA requires ISPs to remove infringing material at the request of the Holder. Thus, it is clear that the DMCA was created to appease both ISPs and Copyright Holders.
On March 13, 2007, Viacom International Inc. filed a class action lawsuit against Youtube claiming massive copyright infringement by the defendant. Viacom filed the suit after sending takedown notices to Youtube demanding over 150,000 copyrighted videos be removed from its servers. In its complaint, Viacom notes “millions have seized the opportunities digital technology provides to express themselves creatively.” However, Viacom argues that Youtube has “harnessed technology to willfully infringe copyrights on a huge scale.” Youtube, the complaint urges, has built a library of infringing video clips in order to increase profit. Rather than attempting to remove all infringing videos, Youtube “has decided to shift the burden entirely onto copyright owners to monitor the Youtube site…to detect infringing videos and send takedown notices to Youtube.” Viacom claims that Youtube increases its own value at the expense of copyright holders through the following methods: displaying advertisements above infringing videos, allowing users to embed infringing files onto other websites to draw users to Youtube and subsequently increase ad revenue, and permitting users to keep copyrighted videos hidden from the public. Viacom also notes that Youtube hosts the videos on its own servers, rather than simply acting as a conduit through which users pass files. This, in Viacom’s interpretation, makes Youtube the primary copyright infringer as it is the entity that is actually “performing” the copyrighted footage.
Youtube is one of the more influential websites in the development of Web 2.0. The website has essentially ushered in a new age of internet democratization by giving all users the ability to create and host content. Viacom’s complaint fails to take several important copyright issues into account, however, decreasing the lawsuit’s validity in several key issues. First and foremost, it assumes that Youtube has a clear intention of hosting copyright infringing content. While the court decided that Grokster, in MGM Studios v. Grokster, did not have sufficient non-infringing uses to escape liability, Youtube was developed as a website where average internet users can upload home videos. When asked about a memory associated with Youtube, users will typically discuss a humorous home movie they saw rather than an illegal movie clip. Similarly, Viacom assumes that Youtube is responsible for policing its site for all copyrighted material, failing to mention the DMCA once in the lawsuit. The Safe Harbor clause of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, however, removes service providers from liability for any copyrighted material that users upload to their servers, specifically if the content provider removes material that a copyright holder insists is infringing. Youtube immediately removes material upon receipt of a takedown notice, typically without even ensuring that the entity which issued the notice is actually the copyright holder. Youtube is similarly protected by the Inducing Infringement of Copyrights Act, which protects sites which do not induce others to commit copyright infringement. Rather, Youtube encourages users to produce their own works.