Free speech activists are hailing a recent court decision about a dancing baby video which they say protects Internet fair use, a critical free speech right, from corporate repression.
The 29-second video, published in 2007 by Stephanie Lenz, shows her 13-month-old son, Holden, dancing in a kitchen. Prince’s 1984 hit song “Let’s Go Crazy” is playing on the radio in the background, and Universal Music Group, the song’s copyright owner, claimed the video violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and had it temporarily removed from YouTube.
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1996 was designed to protect copyright holders from online violations of free speech by offering a simple path to have offending content removed from the Internet. However, the DMCA was written so that it allows for “fair use” rights, a part of copyright law that protects scholars, parody, online search engines, and others who make limited use of a portion of a larger copyrighted material, like Lenz.
Soon after Lenz received the takedown motion from Universal Music Group, she followed the standard DMCA procedure for filing a counterclaim, successfully asserting her fair use rights. YouTube reinstated the video, but this wasn’t enough.
“[C]oncerned that corporate copyright holders were routinely abusing the takedown provision of the DMCA, potentially chilling free speech online, the Electronic Frontier Foundation sued Universal for damages on Lenz’s behalf,” Andrew Albanese wrote last week for Publisher’s Weekly.