Commentary

Less-Than-Legitimate Video Copyright Complaints Taint Election Season

As election season heats up, so too do questionable complaints about politicians' online ads. Last week, the Center for Democracy & Technology released a report outlining some of the more doubtful takedown notices sent to YouTube and other online sites. The CDT concluded that bogus copyright claims are silencing political speech. Since then, it's safe to say that the situation hasn't gotten any better.

Consider the gubernatorial race in Ohio, where U.S. Rep. John Kasich released an ad showing a man who appears to be a steelworker blasting the incumbent governor for unemployment. "Under Ted Strickland as governor, Ohio has lost nearly 400,000 jobs," the man says, hardhat nestled in the crook of his elbow. "Now Ted Strickland wants us to keep him in his job, when he didn't keep us in our jobs. Re-elect Ted Strickland? Are you kidding me?"

As it turns out, however, the person featured in the ad is an actor, Chip Redden. He has appeared in a handful of movies, according to his IMDB page.

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Once Strickland's camp realized that the ad featured an actor, the campaign released a mash-up of the spot with clips of Redden's work. The tagline reads: "Congressman John Kasich can't get a real steelworker to lie about Governor Strickland's record, so he paid an actor to play one."

A film studio that owns some of the movie clips then sent a takedown demand to YouTube. The video-sharing site complied, but restored the clip within 24 hours.

As questions of fair use go, this ad isn't a close call. It's a clear demonstration that the steelworker in the original clip was portrayed by an actor -- a fact that Strickland's campaign certainly is entitled to point out.

And, while the studio might have entirely legitimate reasons for not wanting clips of its movie to appear in political ads, content owners simply can't prevent other people from making fair use of copyrighted material.

This dust-up wasn't the first copyright dispute in recent weeks. Among others, Senate candidate Sharron Angle complained that the campaign of Harry Reid (D-Nev.) infringed her copyright by posting a copy of her old Web site, which put forward more extreme right-wing views than she currently espouses.

The Strickland-Kasich matter also likely won't be the last copyright dispute before this election season ends.

But at least, in this instance, YouTube acted quickly to restore the clip. Hopefully the company will continue to do so when faced with bogus takedown notices.

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