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Animal Welfare Group Battles Online Censorship of Rodeo Videos

June 9, 2008

Animal Welfare Group Battles Online Censorship of Rodeo Videos

Bogus Copyright Claims Used to Block YouTube Critique of Animal Mistreatment

Chicago - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) asked a federal court today to protect the free speech rights of an animal welfare group after its video critiques of animal treatment at rodeos were removed from YouTube due to sham copyright claims.

The group Showing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK) is a non-profit organization that videotapes and photographs rodeos in order to expose animal abuse, injuries, and deaths. SHARK posted more than two dozen videos to YouTube to publicize this animal mistreatment. But the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) filed takedown demands for 13 of the videos under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), claiming the videos infringed their copyrights. YouTube consequently removed the videos and canceled SHARK's entire YouTube account, even though the PRCA has no copyright claim in live rodeo events.

"The PRCA may not like it when our clients raise tough questions about how animals are treated at rodeos, " said EFF Staff Attorney Corynne McSherry. "But this copyright claim is completely baseless, and made simply to block the public from seeing SHARK's controversial videos. The PRCA can't be permitted to silence its critics through a misuse of the law."

Because of the baseless copyright claims, SHARK's videos were unavailable to the public for approximately two weeks. In a lawsuit filed today, EFF asks the court to affirm that SHARK's videos do not infringe any of the PRCA's copyrights, and to hold the PRCA accountable for lodging these spurious claims.

"We can't let the PRCA continue to interfere with SHARK's free speech rights," said SHARK investigator Michael Kobliska. "It's simply not right for us to waste our time and money dealing with these baseless DMCA takedowns that block our message from getting out to the public."

This lawsuit is part of EFF's No Downtime for Free Speech Campaign, which works to protect online expression in the face of baseless copyright claims. EFF has seen people and organizations increasingly misusing the DMCA to demand that material be removed from the Internet without providing any proof of infringement. Furthermore, service providers -- fearful of monetary damages and legal hassles -- often comply with these requests without double-checking them, despite the cost to free speech and individual rights.

"We must stop the abuse of the DMCA," said EFF Intellectual Property Fellow Emily Berger. "Those bringing meritless copyright claims must be held accountable so that free speech can continue to flourish online."

Charles Lee Mudd Jr. of Mudd Law Offices in Chicago and the John Marshall Law School Center for Information Technology & Privacy Law are also representing SHARK in this suit.

For the full complaint in SHARK v. PRCA: http://www.eff.org/files/filenode/SHARK_v_PRCA/08cv3314comp.pdf

For more on EFF's No Downtime for Free Speech Campaign: http://www.eff.org/issues/ip-and-free-speech

Contacts:

Emily Berger
Intellectual Property Fellow
Electronic Frontier Foundation
emily@eff.org

Corynne McSherry
Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
corynne@eff.org

Michael Kobliska
SHARK Investigator
mkobliska@sharkonline.org

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