A copyright specialist with The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) told Raw Story on Tuesday that music publisher BMG is abusing copyright law to censor former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) by asking Google to take down a campaign advertisement that featured several seconds of President Barack Obama (D) singing a tune by Al Green.
“This was a pretty clear cut case of fair use,” Corynne McSherry, EFF’s intellectual property director, explained in an exclusive interview. “That means that they shouldn’t have sent a takedown notice under the [Digital Milenneium Copyright Act] (DMCA).”
And while the original video of Obama signing Al Green is still available online, Romney’s response is not. Viewers were instead greeted by an error message on Tuesday morning explaining that it was taken down “due to a copyright claim by BMG_Rights_Management.”
Copyright law gives the victims of improper DMCA requests 10 days to petition for restoration of their content. Of course, Romney’s ad won’t be nearly as relevant by then — which just might be the point of all this.
“We should all be paying attention here,” McSherry said. “We saw this during the last election, and I’m afraid we’re going to see it again, where we have political speech being taken down via DMCA notices, and that’s a real problem. That’s not what the DMCA was supposed to be about. In this case, it sounds like we have an abuse.”
And it’s not just political speech: DMCA takedown notices have become the weapon of choice for copyright holders looking to block competitors, stymie the publication of damaging information, hinder scientific research, censor media outlets, delete user-submitted content from socially-driven websites or frustrate potentially disruptive technological innovation.
“We saw that in 2008 in particular where news organizations were going after political ads where they reused footage,” McSherry added. “Now that is even more unfortunate — news organizations should understand and protect fair use, as opposed to impeding it. I’m afraid we’re now seeing that again with this campaign. Either way, it’s political speech. Simply because something is a political ad doesn’t make it any less fair use.”
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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