Thursday, February 12, 2009

Animal rights group settles DMCA abuse suit with rodeo association; lesson: don't send takedown notices unless you control the copyright

An animal rights group called SHARK ("Showing Animals Respect and Kindness") has settled a lawsuit it brought against the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, alleging that the PRCA had sent improper DMCA takedown notices to YouTube over 13 videos that SHARK supporters shot and were posted to the web by the organization. According to the settlement agreement (made public, which is quite unusual), PRCA will pay $25,000 to resolve the matter. PRCA also agreed to set up a sort of private takedown system for SHARK videos outside the normal DMCA process, whereby PRCA will first send future copyright complaints directly to SHARK rather than to YouTube. And PRCA agreed not to enforce a "no videotaping" provision stamped on its tickets selectively against anti-rodeo activists like SHARK.

Before anyone starts screaming "victory for fair use!", let's be clear on one thing: this case was not about fair use. Rather, SHARK (represented by EFF) pointed out that PRCA didn't own the copyright in the SHARK-posted videos in the first place. PRCA staged the rodeos, but that doesn't mean it owns the copyright when someone else videotaped them. (It would have been an interesing fair use case had SHARK, say, posted videos of broadcasts whose copyrights PRCA owned -- but that was not what happened here.)

SHARK's complaint included claims under Section 512(f) of the DCMA for misrepresentation, for a declaration of noninfringement, and for intentional interference by PRCA with SHARK's alleged contract with YouTube. It would have been interesting to have a court give us some more law on 512(f), and to opine on the novel interference claim. But, of course, lawsuits are about the parties, not for the benefit of bystanders or bloggers, so it's hardly fair to blame them for settling for this fairly modest sum.

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