Threatened With Suit, Newport Television Backs Down From YouTube Copyright Claim

Advocacy group Free Press recently launched a new initiative aimed at exposing what it calls "covert consolidation" in the media industry. As part of the campaign, the group created a short video with examples of how different local TV stations are sharing anchors, reporters, footage of interviews and even Web sites.

Newport Television, a media company based in Kansas City, Mo., responded by demanding that YouTube take down the video. Newport alleged that Free Press infringed copyright because its clip showed the logo of two stations controlled by the company. The logo appeared in a segment of the clip that showed a Web site shared by Newport's WTEV-TV and WAWS-TV, both of which are in Jacksonville, Fla. (Newport's Web site includes both stations among its properties, but only WAWS-TV is listed as "owned and operated" by Newport.)

This is the type of claim that would go nowhere in court, given that Free Press clearly made fair use of Newport's materials. Nonetheless, YouTube had no choice but to take down the clip or risk losing its immunity from copyright liability for user-uploads. That's because the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's safe harbors provide that sites like YouTube are immune from liability when users upload pirated clips, but only if they remove the material at the request of the content owner.

Newport is hardly the only company to attempt to use copyright law to shut down legitimate speech. The Center for Democracy & Technology reported last year that Fox News, MSNBC, National Public Radio and other news organizations have used copyright law to stifle political speech online. The CDT examined publicly available records and found 12 recent instances of political ads' removal from the Web due to bogus takedown notices.

When Free Press received Newport's cease-and-desist letter, the group fired off a response contesting the claim and threatening to sue the broadcasting company. The advocacy group reported today that Newport has backed down and that its video was restored by YouTube.

While that's good news for Free Press -- and for anyone wishing to watch the clip -- the incident still raises questions, including why media companies feel so free to send takedown notices when they don't like particular content.

Tags: copyright
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2 comments about "Threatened With Suit, Newport Television Backs Down From YouTube Copyright Claim".
  1. Kat Caverly from Kat Caverly Enterprises, Inc , July 23, 2011 at 5:10 p.m.

    Media companies don't feel "free" to file DMCA complaints, they honestly don't like the unauthorized usage of their copyright without permission for something that criticizes them. This is why there is a Fair Use statute.

    I am not a lawyer but I have spent thousands of hours doing legal research and more in dollars to learn about copyright law. Fair Use can only be determined legally by a judge. But few would take it that far when the usage is clearly criticism.

    I am an advocate for copyright but also all of copyright, including Fair Use. When a copyright holder commits a crime it is called "abuse of copyright". This too has serious ramifications.

  2. Bruce May from Bizperity , July 24, 2011 at 3:59 p.m.

    As with all laws, there has to be a balance between competing interests, in this case fair use vs. copyright. But this case is a more complex because it also touches on the freedom of the press protected by the Constitution. What is most disturbing about this particular incident is that it was the press suing itself. Normally, the media is the first line of defense when it comes to attacks on freedom of the press. Seeing this break down is unsettling. In addition, the current standard for safe harbor does not honor the standards previously established for “prior restraint” which prohibit the use of the courts to limit speech before it has a chance to be distributed. Traditional media distribution is essentially instantaneous, when television programs are aired or papers are published. Online media distributes content over the course of time, a critical fact that has not been adequately addressed by existing law. We have a long way to go before we sort this all out.