False Copyright Notices Subject of DMCA Hearings in US

By Drew Wilson

False Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) notices have been circulating the Internet for years. While many free speech advocates have said that this problem is putting a chill on free speech and putting into question whether or not Fair Use has any teeth anymore, it seemed that very little was done about it. More recently, the subject of false takedown notices have become the subject of a DMCA exemption hearing.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation recently posted a reminder that current and existing copyright laws in the US have remained problematic. In the example they cited, McIntosh posted a short film about gender roles in the Twilight series and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Lionsgate, the company that owns the rights to Twilight, subsequently sent a DMCA takedown notice to YouTube, ordering the video be taken down. YouTube, of course, complied with the request.

Later on, the video was screened at a DMCA hearing which happens on a periodic basis to determine whether or not a particularly use should be granted an exemption under the DMCA law. EFF commented that the video in question represented the most unambiguous example of fair use. It did, after all, splice a few short clips together and commented on them in a particular manner.

Still, this is just one of the more recent examples activists are using to show that the US copyright system is broken.

There can be a number of reasons why false DMCA notices are filed in the first place. It could be of a seemingly anti-competitive nature such as when Universal Music took down multiple independent Canadian artists videos. It could also be for general fraud when an unknown individual filed DMCA notices on YouTube pretending to be the rightsholder of the NyanCat (the real creator even went so far as to demand the videos be re-instated). Another reason for false DMCA takedown notices is that the rightsholder tried to implement an automated system where general keywords were used to find allegedly infringing material only to have legitimate pages get taken down in the process which has happened too many times to count now. DMCA takedown notices were also used as a point blank tool for censorship such as the case where doctors used copyright takedown notices to remove bad reviews.

It’s because of reasons, such as those cited above, that some are opposed to laws such as the “three strikes law” that have been seen in trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The concerns are that if existing copyright laws can be abused in such a manner, what happens when even broader copyright enforcement tools are put in place such as the ability to disconnect someone from the Internet over mere allegations of copyright infringement.

In any event, it may be advisable to examine the cases of false copyright notices when discussing more strict copyright enforcement tools.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85

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