Another day, another stupid copyright claim silences a lawful use online. Copyright abuse is all too common, but some forms deserve special attention and a place in EFF Takedown Hall of Shame.
First up: a particularly offensive use of the DMCA to force offline a series of videos debunking AIDS denialists. It seems there’s a community of people trying to convince the world that the medical science behind, and treatment for, HIV/AIDS is all wrong. What is worse, they are trying to convince HIV positive people not to take life-saving medications. One of their principal propaganda tools is the movie “House of Numbers” in which a young Canadian named Brent Leung purports to investigate the science behind AIDS. Video blogger Myles Power (not his real name) created a series of videos of his own, debunking the “facts” and testimony discussed in House of Numbers. Movie backers Knowledge Matters LLC and Martin Penny promptly filed several DMCA notices targeting the videos, because Powers included clips from the movie in order to critique it. Powers could, of course, counter-notice, but understandably hesitated to do so, fearful of retaliation. With EFF’s help, Power has now challenged the takedowns—but they should never have happened in the first place.
The AIDS denialist’s tactics echo those of our second inductee, former Navy chaplain and Colorado Assembly candidate Gordon Klingenschmitt. Just before Christmas, Klingenschmitt launched a campaign to use the DMCA to shut down the YouTube account of People for the American Way's Right Wing Watch (“RWW”) project. RWW reports and comments on the political views of folks like Klingenschmitt, using their own words. Klingenschmitt sent a series of takedown notices claiming that RWW's use of clips of his program infringed his copyrights—never mind that RWW was obviously posting them as part of its critical work. Because YouTube has a policy of shutting down accounts after three takedown notices, Klingenschmitt’s bogus complaints caused RWW’s entire account to be taken offline—twice. The harassment finally stopped only when PFAW, also with EFF's help, threatened to take Klingenschmitt to court.
As we have noted before, the “three strikes and you’re out” approach to DMCA notices taken by YouTube and other service providers is ripe for this kind of abuse. YouTube has made some improvements, but there’s much more service providers could do.
In the meantime, there’s a lot of talk these days about copyright reform. Know what really needs fixing? The legal and technological practices that are blurring the line between copyright and censorship.
Update: Myles Powers' videos are back up ahead of the usual counternotice two-week timeline, thanks to intervention from YouTube. Well done YouTube, it's great to see you intervene to protect fair use!