Picture this. You’re are a YouTube personality who happened to hit it big and before you know it you are relying on income from your YouTube channel as your sole source of income. Your videos consist mainly of criticizing or commenting on issues that are important to you. However, with this rise in fame also comes a rise in detractors – people who are not happy that you are criticizing them. These detractors want nothing more than to hurt you and prevent others from hearing your criticisms. So, what do these detractors do? They file a DMCA takedown notice claiming that your video (or videos) are infringing on their copyright. You are now in the position of defending yourself or risking copyright strikes by YouTube. Worse, even if you file a counter-notice, the video will still have been offline for some time, causing a serious interruption in your source of income. Do you have any recourse against these bad-faith, fraudulent takedown notices? The answer is yes, and this article discusses what those options are.
Congress passed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (the “DMCA”) in 1998 to address the changing world of copyrights in lieu of the rise of the internet. Over two decades later, the DMCA still provides an efficient mechanism to allow copyright holders to easily have infringing content removed from an internet service provider like YouTube without the need to file expensive lawsuits.
The DMCA, among other things, created a notice-takedown process that, if followed by service providers (like YouTube), insulates them from copyright liability for any infringing content posted on their site. In general, the way that the takedown-notice procedure works is as follows:
- A copyright holder files a takedown notice, under penalty of perjury, with a service provider claiming that the site is hosting infringing content owned by the copyright holder;
- The service provider then removes the allegedly infringing content and notifies the person who posted the content;
- The posting party then has the right to file a counter-notification, informing the service provider that the content is not infringing; and
- If a counter-notice is filed, the service provider must re-host the content unless the original copyright holder files a lawsuit.
In most cases, this process works well and allows content creators, especially small content creators, the ability to police their works without needing to resort to expensive, federal copyright litigation.
However, people have been able to abuse this process to attack enemies and competitors, and to censor critics. Critics often use small portions of video or text from the person they are criticizing to put the criticism in context. This use, as discussed below, would clearly be fair use and allowable. However, the person being criticized will then file a DMCA takedown notice claiming that, because snippets of his videos or text are used, the video infringes on his copyright. These takedowns are not valid and are nothing more than attempts to censor perfectly acceptable speech and shield the person from criticism.
The DMCA provides a remedy for these bad-faith takedowns, specifically:
Any person who knowingly materially misrepresents under this section—
(1) that material or activity is infringing, or
(2) that material or activity was removed or disabled by mistake or misidentification, shall be liable for any damages, including costs and attorneys’ fees, incurred by the alleged infringer, by any copyright owner or copyright owner’s authorized licensee, or by a service provider, who is injured by such misrepresentation, as the result of the service provider relying upon such misrepresentation in removing or disabling access to the material or activity claimed to be infringing, or in replacing the removed material or ceasing to disable access to it.
17 U.S.C.A. § 512
Thus, if someone files a fraudulent DMCA takedown notice, they can be sued for the damages caused, along with the costs and attorneys’ fees that were incurred in pursuing those damages. In many cases, the costs of attorneys’ fees can far outweigh the actual damages.
The big issue that arises in these types of cases is “fair use.” Fair use is defined as follows:
[T]he fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.
17 U.S.C. § 107
One of the most important things to remember about fair us is that “fair use is not just excused by the law, it is wholly authorized by the law.” Lenz v. Universal Music Corp., 815 F.3d 1145, 1151 (9th Cir. 2016). Thus, even if someone is using a copyrighted work, if it is being used as authorized by 17 U.S.C. § 107, the use is not infringing.
What many of these fraudulent takedown requests hang their hat on is that their copyrighted content was included in some way in the video in question. However, they fail to undertake any sort of good-faith analysis as to whether fair use is applicable or not. Most often, uses of a copyrighted work, especially snippets of that work, to criticize the work or the author are protected by fair use. However, the sender of the notice doesn’t actually have a legitimate concern about copyright infringement, but instead is concerned with attempting to censor critics or punish people the sender does not like.
Unfortunately for these senders, the Court has addressed this issue and concluded that “a copyright holder must consider the existence of fair use before sending a takedown notification” and “form a subjective good faith belief that a use is not authorized[.]” Id at 1153.
Therefore, if the sender did not conduct a good faith, fair use evaluation before sending the takedown notice, they can be subject to liability, including damages, attorneys’ fees, and costs.
If you have been the subject of a bad-faith DMCA takedown notice, you should contact an attorney at Smith & Associates for a free consultation to discuss your situation and your potential remedies.