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Google-YouTube and Viacom Make Nice, For Now

April 23, 2007

Earlier today, theElectronic Frontier Foundation put out this statement:

Responding to Viacom's willingness to take steps to protect the free speech rights of those who post videos to YouTube and similar video sharing sites, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Stanford Law School's Fair Use Project (FUP) today dismissed a lawsuit filed on behalf of Civic Action and Brave New Films (BNF).

The lawsuit was filed in federal court last month, after a parody of "The Colbert Report" was removed from YouTube following a meritless copyright complaint by Viacom. The humorous video, called "Stop the Falsiness," was created by MoveOn and BNF using clips from the Comedy Central television series. It was a tongue-in-cheek commentary on Colbert's portrayal of the right-wing media and parodied MoveOn's own reputation for earnest political activism.

Viacom initially denied sending the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notice that resulted in the removal of the video from YouTube, while saying it had no objection to "Stop the Falsiness." However, Viacom later conceded it was the source of the demand and admitted error in taking action against the parody.

In the course of discussions with EFF and FUP, Viacom described the steps it endorses for protecting fair use and free expression as it targets copyright infringement on Internet video sites. This includes: manual review of every video that is a potential DMCA takedown target, training reviewers to avoid issuing takedown requests for fair use, and publicly stating that it does not challenge use of Viacom materials that are "creative, newsworthy or transformative" and are "a limited excerpt for non commercial purposes."

Furthermore, in reaction to the MoveOn/BNF suit, Viacom moved the ball forward for Internet users' rights. In order to address any similarly erroneous takedown notices in the future, Viacom has agreed to set up a website and email "hotline," promising a review of any complaint within one business day and a reinstatement if the takedown request was in error.

In light of these disclosures and commitments -- designed to protect the fair use and free speech rights of Internet users who rely on video sharing sites like YouTube -- MoveOn and BNF have dismissed their claims against Viacom.

"If copyright owners are going to be sending hundreds of thousands of DMCA takedown notices, they also have a responsibility to protect the legitimate free speech rights of the citizen creators who rely on platforms like YouTube," said EFF Senior Intellectual Property Attorney Fred von Lohmann. "By choosing to respect newsworthy and transformative uses of their materials -- and establishing a simple process that lets improperly targeted users get their material back up quickly -- Viacom has taken important steps toward meeting that responsibility. We hope other media companies will follow Viacom's lead."

"This new endorsement of Internet users' rights is a victory for the little guy," said Eli Pariser, Executive Director of Civic Action. "Online sites like YouTube have revolutionized political expression and can give the little guy an audience of millions for a political point of view. A corporate powerhouse like Viacom must not be allowed to erase political content or muzzle political expression."

"Following these practices will not curb all DMCA copyright abuse," said EFF Staff Attorney Corynne McSherry. "But they are several much-needed steps in the right direction. If a major content owner like Viacom can recognize this, other content owners should be able to do the same."

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