Universal Music needed to consider fair use implications in judging whether a dancing baby video violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a U.S. Appeals Court judge in San Francisco ruled Monday.
Universal initially demanded that Stephanie Lenz take down a 29-second video she posted on YouTube in 2007 because it featured Prince's "Let's Go Crazy." The studio stated that the clip violated publishing rights, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
But Lenz and others argued that the short video amounted to fair use and was protected.
"To be clear, if a copyright holder ignores or neglects our unequivocal holding that it must consider fair use before sending a takedown notification, it is liable for damages under § 512(f)," Judge Richard Talllman wrote in his opinion, The Reporter noted.
"If, however, a copyright holder forms a subjective good faith belief the allegedly infringing material does not constitute fair use, we are in no position to dispute the copyright holder's belief even if we would have reached the opposite conclusion," the judge continued.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is representing Lenz,
sued Universal on her behalf, saying that companies like Universal have long targeted lawful users who have not broken copyright laws.
"Today's ruling sends a strong message that copyright law does not authorize thoughtless censorship of lawful speech," the Electronic Frontier Foundation's legal director Corynne McSherry said in a statement. "We're pleased that the court recognized that ignoring fair use rights makes content holders liable for damages."
The foundation wrote that Tallman also rejected Universal's charge that Lenz had to show actual monetary loss to claim she was a victim of takedown abuse.
"The decision made by the appeals court today has ramifications far beyond Ms. Lenz's rights to share her video with family and friends," McSherry said in the foundation statement. "We will all watch a lot of online video and analysis of presidential candidates in the months to come, and this ruling will help make sure that information remains uncensored."
Tallman's decision cleared the foundation's lawsuit for trial, saying that a jury needed to determine "whether Universal's actions were sufficient to form a subjective good faith belief about the video's fair use or lack thereof."
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