TV Doctor Believes Copyright Will Save Him From Criticism, Is Very Wrong
Using the DMCA to take down criticism is never a good idea, especially for public figures, and it’s a particularly bad idea when you can’t even spell the word “copyright.” Dr. Drew Pinsky, a media personality and addiction specialist, tweeted: “Infringing copywrite laws is a crime. Hang onto your retweets. Or erase to be safe” (emphasis ours), threatening those retweeting a viral video compilation showing him repeatedly downplaying the seriousness of COVID-19.
The five-minute video, created by DroopsDr and tweeted out by HuffPost contributor Yashar Ali, is comprised of dozens of clips of Pinsky saying COVID-19 is “way less virulent than the flu” and that “all these war stories about lack of ventilators and hospital beds being full” are “total B.S.” The video was removed from YouTube on April 4, 2020, and replaced with the message: “This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by Drew Pinsky Inc.” YouTube likely removed the video after receiving a DMCA notice from Dr. Drew claiming the video was infringing. The removal not only undercut Dr. Drew’s recent apology for downplaying the danger of the coronavirus, but it was flat out legally incorrect.
The video falls squarely within fair use, since it’s a criticism of Pinsky’s statements about COVID-19. It compiles a series of short clips to generate a powerful critique of Pinsky’s vocal and prolonged dismissal of COVID-19, which is a transformative use. Former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara agreed in a tweet responding to Yashar Ali: “You are safe from any ‘copywrite’ lawsuit, @yashar. Know your writes.” YouTube has since reinstated the full video.
Pinsky deleted all tweets related to the debacle, but this remains a good example of just how important fair use is in telling truth to power. Simply saying Pinsky was wrong would not have been as powerful as presenting video of his own words. In a world where “pics or it didn’t happen” is an Internet catchphrase, nothing beats being able to show a person of power and fame actually saying what you’re trying to criticize.
Copyright is not supposed to be a tool to silence your critics. But we’ve seen it used that way over and over, regardless of the safeguards supposedly included in the DMCA. While the Ninth Circuit has held that copyright owners must consider whether content is a lawful fair use before sending a takedown notice, and section 512(f) of the DMCA enables users to hold copyright owners accountable if they send a DMCA notice in bad faith, it’s rare for users to have the time or money to file lawsuits.
When you claim to apologize, but also remove all evidence of your mistakes—by both using DMCA takedowns and deleting your tweets—it’s best to remember that other digital age aphorism: the Internet never forgets.