Washington, D.C.—The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) today filed a petition on behalf of its client Stephanie Lenz asking the U.S. Supreme Court to ensure that copyright holders who make unreasonable infringement claims can be held accountable if those claims force lawful speech offline.
Lenz filed the lawsuit that came to be known as the “Dancing Baby” case after she posted—back in 2007—a short video on YouTube of her toddler son in her kitchen. The 29-second recording, which Lenz wanted to share with family and friends, shows her son bouncing along to the Prince song "Let's Go Crazy," which is heard playing in the background. Universal Music Group, which owns the copyright to the Prince song, sent YouTube a notice under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), claiming that the family video was an infringement of the copyright.
EFF sued Universal on Lenz’s behalf, arguing that the company’s claim of infringement didn’t pass the laugh test and was just the kind of improper, abusive DMCA targeting of lawful material that so often threatens free expression on the Internet. The DMCA includes provisions designed to prevent abuse of the takedown process and allows people like Lenz to sue copyright holders for bogus takedowns.
The San Francisco-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit last year sided in part with Lenz, ruling that that copyright holders must consider fair use before sending a takedown notice. But the court also held that copyright holders should be held to a purely subjective standard. In other words, senders of false infringement notices could be excused so long as they subjectively believed that the material they targeted was infringing, no matter how unreasonable that belief. Lenz is asking the Supreme Court to overrule that part of the Ninth Circuit’s decision to ensure that the DMCA provides the protections for fair use that Congress intended.
“Rightsholders who force down videos and other online content for alleged infringement—based on nothing more than an unreasonable hunch, or subjective criteria they simply made up—must be held accountable,” said EFF Legal Director Corynne McSherry. “If left standing, the Ninth Circuit’s ruling gives fair users little real protection against private censorship through abuse of the DMCA process.”
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