Commentary

CDT To Prez Campaigns: Send Us Examples Of Poor DMCA Calls

Whether the McCain-Palin campaign likes it or not, digital rights groups have seized on the campaign's recent highly public beef with YouTube to criticize copyright laws in this country more broadly.

This week, the Center for Democracy & Technology became the latest group to harness the McCain-YouTube dispute. That organization is calling on the campaign to release a list of clips that were accused of infringing on copyrights, in order to show how the TV networks and other big media representatives take what it calls an "overly aggressive" view of their intellectual property.

"The public would benefit from a full accounting of such incidents, including which media companies issued such requests, how often, and in response to what kind of videos," the CDT wrote in a letter to both the McCain and Obama campaigns.

The furor started last week, when the campaign's general counsel, Trevor Potter, asked YouTube to stop taking down presidential ads in response to complaints of copyright infringement. Potter protested that TV networks had overreached in their demands, seeking the removal of remixes that incorporated as little as 10 seconds of a news broadcast.

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YouTube responded that it had no realistic choice but to take down the clips, thanks to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. That statute's "safe harbor" provisions give sites like YouTube protection from liability, but only if they remove clips as soon as a copyright holder complains.

For groups like the Center for Democracy & Technology and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the McCain-Palin campaign's request was something of a godsend. Digital rights advocates have long said that the DMCA tilts too heavily in favor of big media companies.

They've also pointed out that copyright holders are using the DMCA to squelch legitimate speech, including parodies, criticism and political dissent. For instance, Universal Music Group complained about a toddler dancing to a Prince song, Uri Geller carped about an exposé that used a brief portion of a copyrighted video, and the Church of Scientology succeeded in briefly getting thousands of critical clips taken down from YouTube.

Copyright owners also complain directly to hosting companies. The liberal blogger "Spocko," for instance, was briefly taken offline after ABC radio affiliate accused him of violating copyright by posting a brief portion of an audio clip online in order to criticize it.

Of course, for every person that goes public about an unlawful takedown notice, there are surely many more that remain silent.

Now that the McCain-Palin campaign has brought the matter up, the campaign should follow through on it and, at a minimum, shed some more light on media companies' expansive view of copyright law.

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