Judge Delivers His Royal Purple Badness A Fair Use Smackdown

Aug 21st, 2008 | By | Category: Internet TV, Podcasting Law, Streaming Video, Video

United States District Judge Jeremy Fogel has delivered Prince, and Universal Music a fair use smackdown in a case that may end up reducing the number of nuisance takedown notices filed against people that share videos at sites like YouTube.

Universal had sued Stephanie Lenz over the use of Prince’s song Let’s Go Crazy in a video she uploaded to YouTube that featured her baby pushing a toy and dancing.

Or as the legal description puts it:

On February 7, 2007, Plaintiff Stephanie Lenz (‘Lenz’) videotaped her young children dancing in her family’s kitchen. The song Let’s Go Crazy by the artist professionally known as Prince (‘Prince’) played in the background. The video is twenty-nine seconds in length, and Let’s Go Crazy’ can be heard for approximately twenty seconds, albeit with difficulty given the poor sound quality of the video. The audible portion of the song includes the lyrics, ‘C’mon baby let’s get nuts’ and the song’s distinctive guitar solo. Lenz is heard asking her son, ‘what do you think of the music?’

On February 8, 2007, Lenz titled the video ‘Let’s Go Crazy #1’ and uploaded it to YouTube.com (‘YouTube’), a popular Internet video hosting site, for the alleged purpose of sharing her son’s dancing with friends and family. YouTube provides ‘video sharing’ or ‘user generated content.’ The video was available to the public at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N1KfJHFW1hQ.

While most people would think a snippet of a song in the background of a baby video was fair use, not Prince and Universal.

According to Universal:

Prince believes it is wrong for YouTube, or any other user-generated site, to appropriate his music without his consent. That position has nothing to do with any particular video that uses his songs. It’s simply a matter of principle. And legally, he has the right to have his music removed. We support him and this important principle. That’s why, over the last few months, we have asked YouTube to remove thousands of different videos that use Prince music without his permission.

Universal argued that copyright owners cannot be required to evaluate the question of fair use prior to sending a takedown notice, because “fair use is merely an excused infringement of a copyright rather than a use authorized by the copyright owner or by law.”

Lenz, on the other hand, argued that fair use is an authorized use of copyrighted material, noting that the fair use doctrine itself is an express component of copyright law.

Judge Fogel ruled with Lenz (pdf), stating that “Requiring owners to consider fair use will help “ensure[] that the efficiency of the Internet will continue to improve and that the variety and quality of services on the Internet will expand, without compromising the movies, music, software and literary works that are the fruit of American creative genius.”

The judgement is an important one, because it could help minimize “nuisance” takedown requests for videos that make fair use of copyrighted material, and let people share their baby videos without fear of getting in a legal battle with His Royal Purple Badness.

Update: More discussion at Wired.

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One Response to “Judge Delivers His Royal Purple Badness A Fair Use Smackdown”

  1. taniaelis says:

    I’m an old Prince fan, but suing people over baby videos is pretty idiotic. You’re not going to win in court against cute babies dancing.

    Glad to see that sanity wins out, for once.

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