San Francisco - Prof. Lawrence Lessig has settled his lawsuit against an Australian record label over the use of clips of a popular song by the band Phoenix in a lecture that was later posted online. Liberation Music, which represents Phoenix in New Zealand, claimed the clips infringed copyright, demanded YouTube take down the lecture, and then threatened to sue Lessig. Represented by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Jones Day, Lessig fought back, asserting his fair use rights in court.
"Too often, copyright is used as an excuse to silence legitimate speech," said Lessig, who serves as the Roy L. Furman Professor of Law and Leadership at Harvard Law School and director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University. "I've been fighting against that kind of abuse for many years, and I knew I had to stand up for fair use here as well. Hopefully this lawsuit and this settlement will send a message to copyright owners to adopt fair takedown practices—or face the consequences."
The settlement requires Liberation Music to pay Lessig for the harm it caused. The amount is confidential under the terms of the settlement, but it will be dedicated to supporting EFF's work on open access, a cause of special importance to Lessig's friend, Aaron Swartz, a technologist and activist who took his own life in early 2013. The parties also worked together to improve Liberation Music's methodology for compliance with the requirements of the DMCA in the United States. Going forward, Liberation Music will adopt new policies that respect fair use.
Neither party concedes the claims or defenses of the other. Liberation Music included this statement in the settlement agreement:
"Liberation Music is pleased to amicably resolve its dispute with Professor Lessig. Liberation Music agrees that Professor Lessig's use of the Phoenix song 'Lisztomania' was both fair use under US law and fair dealing under Australian law. Liberation Music will amend its copyright and YouTube policy to ensure that mistakes like this will not happen again. Liberation Music is committed to a new copyright policy that protects its valid copyright interests and respects fair use and dealing."
A co-founder of the nonprofit Creative Commons and author of numerous books on law and technology, Lessig has played a pivotal role in shaping the debate about copyright in the digital age. In June 2010, Lessig delivered a lecture titled "Open" at a Creative Commons conference in South Korea that included several short clips of amateur dance videos set to the song "Lisztomania" by the French band Phoenix. The lecture, which was later uploaded to YouTube, used the clips to highlight emerging styles of cultural communication on the Internet.
As a condition of the settlement, Liberation Music submitted a declaration explaining its takedown procedures. Liberation Music had allowed a single employee to use YouTube's automatic Content ID system to initiate the takedown process and then, when Lessig challenged the takedown, threaten a lawsuit. The employee, who did not have a legal background, did not actually review Lessig's video before issuing a threat of a lawsuit.
Liberation Music's new policy will still rely on YouTube's system, but it will ensure that no takedown notice is issued without human review, including fair use considerations. Liberation Music will also limit its copyright enforcement to jurisdictions where it actually owns or administers the copyright.
"This is the policy Liberation Music should have had from the beginning," EFF Intellectual Property Director Corynne McSherry said. "Too many content owners are issuing takedowns and manipulating content filters without respect for the rights of users. This fight may be over, but the battle continues until every content owner embraces best practices that protect fair use."
For more on this case:
About Prof. Lessig:
Lawrence Lessig is the Roy L. Furman Professor of Law and Leadership at Harvard Law School, director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University and founder of Rootstrikers, a network of activists leading the fight against government corruption. He has authored numerous books, including The USA is Lesterland, Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Our Congress—and a Plan to Stop It, Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, Free Culture, and Remix.
Intellectual Property Director
Electronic Frontier Foundation