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TV Networks Must Stop Blocking Election Videos on YouTube

PRESS RELEASE
October 20, 2008
Public Interest Coalition Outlines Steps to Protect Online Political Speech

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and a coalition of public interest groups called on four television networks today to stop stifling vibrant political debate on the Internet with overreaching copyright claims and proposed two measures to help YouTube protect online political speech in the final days before America's presidential election.

In an open letter sent to CBS, the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), Fox, and NBC, the coalition asked the broadcasters to stop sending takedown requests based on copyright in short clips of news footage used in election-related videos. Last week, the McCain-Palin campaign contacted YouTube after CBS, CBN, and Fox targeted the campaign's videos for removal from YouTube. The Obama-Biden campaign has had at least one of its videos removed from YouTube in response to a similar copyright demand from NBC.

"The videos at issue include clips of news footage that last only a few seconds, used as part of constitutionally-protected political speech. This is not piracy, but fair use, no different from what Saturday Night Live and The Daily Show do every night," said EFF Senior Intellectual Property Attorney Fred von Lohmann. "Sending unfounded takedown notices is not only against the law, it also threatens to interfere with the vibrant political debate occurring on community video sites like YouTube. Remixing the news to make your point is what political speech looks like in the 21st century."

The networks' use of copyright law to remove the videos is especially disappointing as CBS, NBC-Universal, and Fox have all officially endorsed "User-Generated Content Principles" (www.ugcprinciples.com) aimed at accommodating legitimate fair use of their material.

In a separate open letter written to YouTube, the coalition suggests two measures to protect all video contributors from unfounded takedown demands. First, all "counter-notices" sent by YouTube users protesting copyright takedown demands should be immediately reviewed by YouTube staff, and the video immediately restored if it is a clear case of fair use. Second, once a user has already provided a valid counter-notice, then YouTube should also review any further takedown notice issued to any video posted to the account.

"In clear cases of fair use, YouTube should stand firmly behind the interests of its user community," said von Lohmann. "YouTube has nothing to fear by hosting videos that do not infringe anyone's copyright."

In addition to EFF, the coalition includes the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU); the ACLU of Northern California; the Citizen Media Law Project at Harvard's Berkman Center; Anthony Falzone, the executive director of Stanford's Fair Use Project; the Center for Social Media, School of Communication, American University; the Program for Information Justice & Intellectual Property, American University Law School; and Public Knowledge.

For the full letter to the television networks:
http://www.eff.org/files/filenode/ip_freespeech/letter+to+networks.pdf

For the full letter to YouTube:
http://www.eff.org/files/filenode/ip_freespeech/letter+to+YouTube.pdf

For more on user-generated content and political speech:
http://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2008/08/election-approaches-do-your-part-protect-political

Contacts:

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

Fred von Lohmann
Senior Intellectual Property Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
fred@eff.org

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