Record Label Picks Copyright Fight — With The Wrong Guy
by Laura Sydell, All Things Considered
Sept. 27, 2013
An Australian record label may have picked a fight with the wrong guy. The label sent a standard takedown notice threatening to sue after YouTube computers spotted its music in a video.
It turns out that video was posted by one of the most famous copyright attorneys in the world, and Lawrence Lessig is suing back.
Lessig, a Harvard Law School professor, has lectured around the world about how copyright law needs to adapt to the Internet age. In his lecture, he shows examples of people who have used the Internet to "share their culture and remix other people's creations."
One of the examples he likes to show is a series of remixes that use the song "Lisztomania" by the French band Phoenix. Someone remixed that song with clips from the iconic '80s movie The Breakfast Club. The remix went viral and inspired other videos in which people pretended to be Breakfast Club actors dancing to the song.
Lessig posted his lecture on YouTube, which uses a technology that scans videos to find copyrighted songs.
One day, "the computer bots finally got around to noticing that I had used a clip from this song," he says. "Liberation Music then fired off threats of a lawsuit to me if I didn't take it down."
At first, YouTube took it down. But being a copyright attorney, Lessig knew his rights. He was entitled to use these clips in a lecture under a legal doctrine known as fair use.
Liberation Music eventually backed down. But Lessig decided to invoke another part of the copyright law, "which basically polices bad-faith lawsuits," he says — threats made fraudulently or without proper basis.
Lessig is suing Liberation Music because he wants labels to stop relying on automated systems to send out takedown notices, he says.