Ninth Circuit Affirms the Importance of Fair Use in DMCA Takedowns

Published: September 15, 2015 8:00 AM /


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DMCA takedowns are a blight on the Internet. In theory, they are a positive, providing media hosting websites a way to avoid liability as long as they make an effort to remove infringing content when it is reported. In practice its a horrible system which allows any video to be taken down regardless of the merits of the claim, and video creators must be willing to fight in court with major media companies if they want to keep their videos up. However, a recent ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals might just make companies think twice about making frivolous DMCA takedowns.

The case was a dispute between Stephanie Lenz and Universal Music Publishing Group. Lenz had posted a 30 second home video of her son bouncing up and down to the tune of Prince's song Let's Go Crazy. Because the song can be heard in the video, Universal filed a DMCA claim against the video, and YouTube had it taken down. The EFF filed suit against Universal on her behalf, seeking a judgement that the video was protected by fair use and additionally seeking damages from Universal for filing this frivolous takedown.

While Universal argued it should not have to pay damages because Lenz has suffered no financial harm from the takedown, the Ninth Circuit ruled that Lenz was entitled to nominal damages because Universal materially misrepresented the situation when it filed the DMCA claim. According to the court's judgement, companies must make a good faith effort to make sure that content is not protected by fair use when they make a claim against it.

The EFF considers this a major victory for free speech on the Internet which will have implications beyond Lenz's case. There have been numerous instances of DMCA claims being abused to silence criticism, particularly during elections. The EFF is hoping this ruling will provide some protection to those who are unfairly silenced.

Do you think this will make major media companies think twice about filing frivolous DMCA claims? Leave your comment below.


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