August 20, 2013 | By Mitch Stoltz

Using Copyright To Silence Oil Sands Satire? How Crude.

When will they ever learn? The Alberta tourism bureau—which shares a law firm with some of the Canadian province's major oil companies—used a copyright takedown notice to try to smother a movie trailer that satirizes Alberta's oil sands project. The two-and-a-half-minute trailer used about four seconds of an Alberta travel advertisement to contrast its lush nature shots with images of environmental destruction in the oil fields, and to satirize its "Remember to Breathe" slogan. These are fair uses that should have been obvious to Travel Alberta's lawyers, and ordering the trailer down earns Travel Alberta a place in EFF's Takedown Hall of Shame.

The comic force behind the trailer video "Welcome to Fort McMoney" is Andy Cobb and Mike Damanskis, Los Angeles-based satirists who have authored over 100 political comedy videos. Cobb and Damanskis were inspired by an ad from the Canadian oil industry that encouraged viewers to "come see for yourself" the environment around Alberta's oil projects. They also found irony in the "Remember to Breathe" tourism slogan. Cobb described Travel Alberta's campaign to the Desmog Canada blog as "We’re making an entire region smell like someone broke wind in a refinery, while destroying the climate for like, everybody everywhere. What’s our theme? I know, respiration!"

Cobb and Damanskis decided to take up the invitation to visit the oil sands, and to film a documentary there. They made the trailer, which includes glimpses of the Travel Alberta commercial, as part of an effort to raise funds to film the documentary.

Last Wednesday, YouTube's black curtain came down on the video (it remains up on their Indiegogo fundraising page, hosted from Vimeo). The Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown request came from Travel Alberta via the Dentons law firm. Dentons, formed from a merger of several large Canadian and international law firms, also represents ExxonMobil and a company that is building a pipeline from the oil sands to the Pacific. The filmmakers sent YouTube a counter-notice, insisting on their right to show the video. Under the DMCA, YouTube is supposed to put the video back up within 10-14 days. (As of today, it's still down.)

Under U.S. law, which Travel Alberta is invoking here, using small portions of a copyrighted video to critique its message is an obvious fair use. The fair use claim is especially strong where the use of the clips won't impact the market for the original. While Cobb and Damanskis's pointing out the irony of inviting tourists to "Remember to Breathe" the air near a vast oil works might discourage some people from visiting Alberta, that's not the sort of harm that copyright law was meant to stop. Travel Alberta and Dentons know this—or they should. Using copyright to take down the "Fort McMoney" trailer is no more than a crude attempt at censorship, and it earns Travel Alberta a place in EFF's Takedown Hall of Shame.


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