Friday, March 23, 2007

Whose Copyright is it Anyway?

I've read a bit of buzz about the fact that the NFL asked YouTube to take down the NFL copyright notice that Law Professor Wendy Seltzer put online for her copyright class. When I first read some of the coverage, like the story on AOL, I thought she'd put it up there as an example.

But Seltzer actually put it out as a sort of honey pot. In her first post on the subject she noted that she was, in effect, testing the voracity of the NFL's legal bots.

The whole case is interesting nonetheless and is worth a read on her blog. But it also brings out an interesting point in regards to copyright law in a grassroots world. What are your rights? My wife is a lawyer, so if anything comes into our house that looks vaguely legal she gives it a look. If it goes beyond her knowledge she has a support group of lawyers she can call on to give it a read.

But if I didn't have her and I received a legal note from YouTube telling me that my video was being taken down, what are my rights? What if I was entirely in the right (like making a parody) but didn't know it? How could I get the legal backing, support and knowledge to know that I'm not wrong?

Seltzer says this about counter-notifications, which are part of the legal process should you be asked to take something off of YouTube and believe you are within your rights to keep it up:

[W]e see many DMCA takedowns, some right and some wrong, but very few counter-notifications. Part of the problem is that the counter-notifier has to swear to much more than the original notifier. While NFL merely had to affirm that it was or was authorized to act on behalf of a rights-holder to take-down, I had to affirm in response that I had "good faith belief that the material was removed or disabled as a result of mistake or misidentification of the material to be removed or disabled." A non-lawyer might be chilled from making that statement, under penalty of perjury, even with a strong good faith belief.
I'm sure in most cases, if the case became large enough the EFF would pick it up, but I also know people who have had such cases and chose not to pursue them. Not because they thought they were wrong, but because the hassle involved would hurt them emotionally and perhaps professionally for a long time.

So, what is a social media maven to do? First, don't be scared when you get a legal notice. Ask around, use the blogging world. There are resources to help, including the EFF and blogging law professors. Don't be scared to ask for help.

At the same time, don't copy and use copyrighted material at will. Intellectual property is, in the end, property. Not everything is free for the taking.

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