An Australian record label sent a take down notice to YouTube because one of its users supposedly violated their copyright. Unfortunately for them, the video they were targeting was one of Lawrence Lessig, a world-renowned copyright lawyer, and now Lessig is suing back.
Lessig posted his lecture on YouTube, which uses a technology that scans videos to find copyrighted songs.
Many labels and artists have agreed to let songs stay up in return for a cut of the money that YouTube gets from ads it runs with the videos — but some labels, like Melbourne-based Liberation Music, which owns the rights to “Lisztomania,” just want them taken down.
One day, “the computer bots finally got around to noticing that I had used a clip from this song,” he says. “Liberation Music then fired off threats of a lawsuit to me if I didn’t take it down.”
At first, YouTube took it down. But being a copyright attorney, Lessig knew his rights. He was entitled to use these clips in a lecture under a legal doctrine known as fair use.
“If I’m using it for purposes of critique, then I can use if even if I don’t have permission of the original copyright owner,” he says.
Liberation Music eventually backed down. But Lessig decided to invoke another part of the copyright law, “which basically polices bad-faith lawsuits,” he says — threats made fraudulently or without proper basis.
Lessig is suing Liberation Music because he wants labels to stop relying on automated systems to send out takedown notices, he says.
Record companies have taken their bullying tactics too far. They will sue people over anything, including the sound of the wind. They act like children and threaten anyone who doesn’t agree with them, even if they are in the wrong, particularly when it comes to fair use. The entire notion of copyright needs to be revisited, with more realistic, practical rules emerging. In the mean time, the government should step in to stop these automated systems as they can not, by their very nature, understand the difference between purposeful infringement and fair use.