Pending before the 9th Circuit is a case which may change the landscape for online copyright protection. The case, Lenz v. Universal, may make it more difficult for copyright owners to protect against infringement in today’s environment of hyper infringement. Defenders of Lenz argue that this case represents the quest for a legitimate balance between overzealous copyright enforcement and legitimate, non-infringing use.
The facts of Lenz are fairly simple. Lenz posted to YouTube a very short video of her young child dancing to a Prince song playing in the background. At the time, Universal Music Publishing was managing Prince’s music publishing. An attorney at Universal manually reviewed the posting but acknowledged that he did not consider whether the Lenz video was fair use. Universal sent a DMCA takedown notice to YouTube and YouTube removed access to the video. Most normal takedown situations end there; however, Lenz was upset and, after trying and failing to remedy the situation herself, sought the aid of attorneys at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
The DMCA was enacted in 1999 as an attempt by Congress to stem the tide of rampant online copyright infringement. The DMCA offered copyright owners a streamlined process for taking down from the Internet allegedly infringing material and online service providers had great incentive to follow the process laid out in the DMCA; to not do so opened one up to potential secondary liability for their users’ activities. Congress included a requirement that the allegation of infringement in a takedown notice include a statement that the sender had a good faith belief that the posting of the allegedly infringing content was not authorized by law. Specifically, Section 512(c)(3)(A)(v) requires a takedown notice to include “[a] statement that the complaining party has a good faith belief that use of the material in the manner complained of is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law.”