January 7, 2009 | By corynne mcsherry

Fox News Censors Political Expression

In a scenario that has become depressingly familiar, a news organization has again used the Digital Millennium Copyright Act ("DMCA") to censor legitimate political speech. Citizen Media Law Project reports that YouTube cancelled Progress Illinois' YouTube channel after Fox News had sent three notices of copyright infringement demanding the takedown of Progress Illinois' videos. In the videos, Progress Illinois, a union-sponsored blog, apparently used short clips of Fox News coverage of local and national political events to set up political commentary about those events. Progress Illinois sent a counternotice asking YouTube to restore the video, but that won't happen for several days, i.e. long after public interest in the event Progress Illinois is talking about has waned.

We haven't been able to view the videos, but from what we've heard it seems likely that the uses in question were fair, and therefore noninfringing. If so, it is especially shameful that a news organization, which itself depends heavily on fair use to do its own reporting and commentary, should ignore fair use and thereby chill the free speech of others. Moreover, Fox News may have lost sight of its own best interest in another way. As CMLP put it:

Fox's heavy-handed response to Progress Illinois' use of its clips highlights the network's myopic view of the media ecosystem in which it operates. Rather than seeing Progress Illinois as a competitor attempting to steal website traffic from WFLD-TV, the network should be grateful that its political coverage is generating buzz in the blogosphere.

It's also disappointing that YouTube hasn't already restored the videos. When similar shenanigans took down campaign videos by Senators McCain and Obama during the presidential election season, we called on YouTube to take steps to protect online speech, among them human review of videos that have been subject to a counternotice, and immediate restoration of videos that are clearly noninfringing fair uses.

Fox News bears the primary blame here, but we've said it before and it bears repeating: the Internet can continue to revitalize our political lives in exciting and unforeseen ways—if, and only if, service providers, users and content owners all do their parts to protect free speech.

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