Yesterday, the McCain-Palin campaign sent a letter to YouTube describing the troubles it has been having with bogus DMCA takedowns targeting its videos:
[O]verreaching copyright claims have resulted in the removal of non-infringing campaign videos from YouTube, thus silencing political speech. Numerous times during the course of the campaign, our advertisements or web videos have been the subject of DMCA takedown notices regarding uses that are clearly privileged under the fair use doctrine. The uses at issue have been the inclusion of fewer than ten seconds of footage from news broadcasts in campaign ads or videos, as a basis for commentary on the issues presented in the news reports, or on the reports themselves. These are paradigmatic examples of fair use...
It's heartening to see a presidential campaign recognize the importance of fair use and "remix culture" (the Obama-Biden campaign has also been the victim of frivolous takedowns from big media companies, so this is a bipartisan problem). EFF, the ACLU, Harvard's Citizen's Media Law Project, and Stanford's Fair Use Project have been making the same point for several years now. EFF has also been providing direct legal assistance to victims of DMCA abuse.
Unfortunately, the solution proposed by the McCain campaign addresses only the tip of the iceberg:
[W]e believe that it would consume few resources--and provide enormous benefit--for YouTube to commit to a full legal review of all takedown notices on videos posted from accounts controlled by (at least) political candidates and campaigns.
The obvious problem with this solution? It assumes that YouTube should prioritize the campaigns' fair use rights, rather than those of the rest of us. That seems precisely backwards, since the most exciting new possibilities on YouTube are for amateur political expression by the voters themselves. After all, the campaigns have no trouble getting the same ads out on television and radio, options not available to most YouTubers.
Let's start by identifying the real villains here: the major news media outlets. They are the ones censoring these political ads, based on the use of a few seconds of their footage. The networks need to back off and give fair use a wide berth. So let's start by shaming the bad guys here. In addition, lawsuits might help. Under the DMCA, both the campaigns themselves and YouTube have standing to sue those who send clearly bogus takedown notices. (EFF has represented video creators in a number of these cases, including against Viacom.)
There are other possible solutions, as well. Stay tuned for our specific ideas on what YouTube can do to protect fair use while staying within the bounds of its DMCA safe harbor protection (hint: as the McCain-Palin letter points out, you don't need a safe harbor if the video isn't infringing, something that human review by YouTube should be able to determine).
UPDATE: The McCain-Palin campaign has identified the news outlets behind the YouTube removals: CBS, Fox News, and the Christian Broadcasting Network. We noted above that NBC has targeted an Obama-Biden video for removal. That's four news entities that should know better.