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.