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Public Citizen to McCain and Obama: Fix the Law To Stop Copyright Holders From Chilling Free Speech Online

Oct. 16, 2008

Public Citizen to McCain and Obama: Fix the Law To Stop Copyright Holders From Chilling Free Speech Online

TV Networks’ Suppression of Campaign Videos on YouTube Flaunts Fair Use,Shows Need to Amend the Statute

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In a letter today, Public Citizen called on Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama to support changes that would make Internet copyright law fairer for users who upload content to Internet service providers (ISPs) like Google’s YouTube.

Both the Republican and Democratic campaigns have had their video advertisements pulled off YouTube after major television networks invoked the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to claim they held the rights to the content, citing clips of news shows used in the ads.

But copyright holders – like these major television networks – are not always correct when they complain that use of their content violates the law. These ads, for example, are plainly allowable according to fair use doctrine. Yet YouTube, like many ISPs, lacks the time or resources to examine every video an intellectual property holder calls into question, let alone defend the content in court if necessary. So the content is removed for 10 days, with the idea that the legal issue will be brought to court within that time.

“ISPs run these services on low profit margins, and in the long run they generally decide that it is cheaper simply to go along with the complaint,” said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen. “But in the context of a political campaign, the 10-day takedown can postpone public access to the speech until it is too late.”

In the letter, Public Citizen offers several suggestions for amendments to the DMCA to shift the balance in favor of free speech. “That both sides have experienced spurious DMCA takedowns demonstrates that this is a bipartisan issue,” said Paul Alan Levy, a senior attorney with Public Citizen who has successfully litigated scores of Internet free speech cases. “Clearly, the chilling of free speech harms political discussion, regardless of the speaker’s ideological sympathies.”

“Next year, one of you will be President of the United States, while one of you will continue to be a reform leader in the Senate,” said Claybrook. “We ask you to make the commitment now to join in the effort to restore free speech rights by paring back the most offensive provisions of the DMCA and other speech-restrictive intellectual property provisions that regulate the Internet.”

You can read Public Citizen’s letter to the candidates at https://www.citizen.org/sites/default/files/dmcaletter.pdf.