No matter where you stand on copyright issues, it’s hard to argue that the current system is working. In few places are the flaws of modern copyright law more apparent than when it comes to Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown requests.
Sure, plenty of legitimate DMCA are received and honored by sites like YouTube, Rapidshare and Grooveshark all the time. But every now and then we hear about a takedown notice that leaves us scratching our heads: Is that really a copyright violation? If not, why was the content removed? Is the system that easily gamed? Oh, it was a violation? How weird.
Even the legitimate takedowns tend to lead a cat-and-mouse game and may not have a meaningful impact on the piracy they’re intended to thwart, research suggests. But either way, some of the headline-grabbing copyright-related content takedowns we’ve seen raise major questions about the state of copyright law, the DMCA and digital piracy.
Five prominent examples are listed below, but there are undoubtedly others. If you’ve heard of an outrageous Web content takedown request, let us know in the comments section.
1. Buffy vs. Edward vs. Bogus Takedown Notices
In 2009, Jonathan McIntosh posted a video to YouTube that seemed ripe to go viral. “Buffy vs. Edward: Twightlight Remixed” riffed on two popular vampire-related entertainment franchises by cleverly mashing up scenes from both into one cohesive, six-minute video. Sound like a copyright violation? It’s not. In fact, the U.S. Copyright Office cited the remix video as a shining example of fair use.
In October 2012, McIntosh received an email from YouTube explaining that his video had been pulled due to a copyright complaint from Lionsgate Entertainment, which owns the rights to the Twilight movies. McIntosh challenged the takedown on fair use grounds and a frustrating back-and-forth between YouTube, Lionsgate and McIntosh ensued. At one point, McIntosh was even locked out of his YouTube account and forced to take lessons in copyright infringement from Google.
As of today, Buffy vs. Edward is back online. For now.
2. Rumblefish Claims Ownership Of Birdsong
No, “Birdsong” is not the title of a popular song recorded by an artist whose songs are licensed by Rumblefish. It’s literally the sound of a bird singing in the background of a video featuring a man making a salad. Using YouTube’s Content ID infringement detection system, the company issued a takedown notice to the video’s very confused creator.
Rumblefish’s CEO owned up to the error and the video remains online, but the whole affair raises major questions about how the copyright enforcement system works.
3. Universal Targets Pro-Megaupload Video Just Because
A few weeks before the now infamous raid that took down Megaupload and its top brass, Kim Dotcom was involved in yet another copyright-related dispute. Shortly after the music video for “Megaupload Song” was uploaded to YouTube, it was taken down due to a copyright complaint from Universal Music Group. This was despite the fact that the song and video were original, non-infringing content. UMG apparently didn’t like the fact that a video promoting Megaupload featured on-camera cameos by major label mega-stars like Kanye West, Mary J Blige, P Diddy and Will.i.am.
4. Universal Goes Crazy Over A Prince Song
When Stepahnie Lenz uploaded a short clip of her kids dancing to “Let’s Go Crazy” by Prince, the last thing she expected was a copyright takedown notice. Apparently, 26 seconds of low-quality audio was too much for Universal Music Group, which owns the copyright to Prince’s catalog. The resulting legal case, Lenz v. Universal, established a precedent stating that copyright owners would need to take the parameters of fair use into consideration before issuing DMCA takedown notices.
5. Minecraft + Gangnam Style = Copyright Violation?
Taking two things beloved by the Internet and mashing them up is often a surefire recipe for a viral video. It’s also apparently an open invitation for accusations of copyright infringement. YouTube user CaptainSparklez learned this the hard way after he uploaded “Minecraft Style,” a video that parodies the world’s most viewed YouTube Video by merging it with the ever-popular Minecraft video game.
After being yanked from YouTube, “Minecraft Style” returned in mid-December, only to be pulled again. The jury is still out on whether this video falls under the fair use exception to copyright law. Either way, it’s hard to imagine a clever mash-up parody video eating into the massive success wrought by PSY since his bizarrely catchy song went viral.
Images courtesy of Shutterstock.
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