First Amendment topicsAbout the First Amendment
News Story
Viacom accused of getting parody blocked on YouTube

By The Associated Press

NEW YORK — Activist groups sued Viacom Inc. on March 22, claiming the parent of Comedy Central improperly asked the video-sharing Web site YouTube to remove a parody of the cable network’s “The Colbert Report.”

Viacom responded by saying it had no records of ever making such a request. YouTube identified the company as the source of the removal request.

Although the video in question contained clips taken from the television show, Civic Action and Brave New Films LLC argued that their use was protected under “fair-use” provisions of copyright law.

The groups said Viacom should have known the use was legal and thus its complaint to YouTube to have the video blocked amounted to a “misrepresentation” that is subject to damages under the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

The challenge, filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, came about a week after Viacom filed its own $1 billion lawsuit against YouTube, claiming that the wildly popular Web site is rife with copyrighted video from Viacom shows, including “The Colbert Report.”

Neither YouTube nor its parent, Google Inc., was named in the latest lawsuit, filed on the plaintiffs’ behalf by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society.

Viacom termed the lawsuit a waste of scarce judicial resources and said the plaintiffs should have checked first with the company.

In a letter to the plaintiffs’ lawyers, Michael D. Fricklas, general counsel for Viacom, said the company had no record of sending YouTube a complaint, despite YouTube’s identification of Viacom as the source. YouTube had no comment about the discrepancy.

After reviewing the clip, Fricklas said, “I can inform you that Viacom has no problem with your client’s continued use of it on its Web site or on YouTube.”

Corynne McSherry, a staff attorney with the EFF, said the organization had checked directly with YouTube staff to confirm Viacom’s role and would investigate further with YouTube.

“We’re happy they don’t have a problem with our clip, ... but at this point it is still our understanding that they sent a takedown notice based on it,” she said. “As far as we’re concerned we still have a lawsuit pending.”

Under the DMCA, YouTube and other service providers are generally immune from copyright lawsuits as long as they promptly respond to copyright complaints, known as takedown notices. According to the lawsuit, a takedown notice was sent to YouTube last week, and the video was blocked almost immediately.

Service providers are not required to investigate claims under the DMCA, and in fact could lose their immunity if they take too long to respond. The law does give users the right to sue the issuer of the takedown request when it contains misrepresentations that an item is infringing. Such lawsuits are rare, though.

“People just shoot off a takedown notice without really giving a second thought to the material being taken down and whether it’s really proper to be taken down,” McSherry said. “A lot of people cave in because they don’t realize they can push back or they can’t afford to push back.”

The lawsuit seeks unspecified legal costs and damages on grounds the plaintiffs’ free-speech rights were harmed.

“With this lawsuit, we are making clear that corporations like Viacom must not be allowed to muzzle independent video creators and censor their free speech,” said Eli Pariser, MoveOn’s executive director.

The parody “Stop the Falsiness,” a play on host Stephen Colbert’s use of the term “truthiness,” was jointly produced by MoveOn and Brave New Films, an activist production company that has made documentaries on the Iraq war, Wal-Mart and the Fox News Channel.


Spoon-altering psychic has YouTube users bent out of shape

Uri Geller becoming Net pariah through his efforts to silence detractors by using DMCA to force takedowns of unflattering videos. 07.09.07

Google: Lawsuit against YouTube threatens online communication
Owner of video-sharing site responds to Viacom's latest lawsuit, which alleges that the Internet has led to 'an explosion of copyright infringement' by YouTube, others. 05.27.08

YouTube, Viacom agree to mask viewer data
Deal will allow video-sharing site to preserve user anonymity when it hands over viewership records in $1 billion lawsuit accusing it of enabling copyright infringement. 07.16.08

Copyright holders must weigh fair use, federal judge says
Ruling is first to require content owners to consider fair use of their material before demanding that Internet sites such as YouTube take down material. 08.21.08

Critics: Copyright law turns ISPs into speech police
Free-speech advocates worry Digital Millennium Copyright Act gives copyright holders ability to push unpopular viewpoints to fringes or off Internet completely. 04.08.02

Copyright & the First Amendment
By David L. Hudson Jr. Oftentimes, particularly in the age of the Internet, copyright and the First Amendment collide. 08.05.04

News summary page
View the latest news stories throughout the First Amendment Center Online.

print this   Print

Last system update: Thursday, August 21, 2008 | 20:59:35
About this site
About the First Amendment
About the First Amendment Center
First Amendment programs
State of the First Amendment

First Reports
Supreme Court
First Amendment publications
First Amendment Center history
Freedom Sings™
First Amendment

Congressional Research Service reports
Guest editorials
FOI material
The First Amendment

Lesson plans
Contact us
Privacy statement
Related links