As user-generated content explodes over the Internet, intellectual property disputes over posting or uploading such content without the owner’s consent continue to escalate. As we touched on in a recent post, social media platforms, hosting websites or other online service providers (OSPs) may be entrapped in these disputes based on the infringing actions of users of these OSPs. In such a situation, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) provides a safe harbor provision to the OSP known as the Online Copyright Infringement Liability Limitation Act (OCILLA.) This provision, found at 17 U.S.C. § 512(c), protects service providers from liability for “infringement of copyright by reason of the storage at the direction of a user of material that resides” on the provider’s system or network, if certain requirements are met.
In 2007, Stephanie Lenz posted a 29-second video to YouTube of her baby dancing in the kitchen with Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” playing in the background. Claiming use of their song amounted to copyright infringement, Universal Music Corp. (Universal) sent YouTube a takedown notice under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Lenz, with representation provided by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), sued Universal on the premise that Universal had abused the DMCA takedown provisions by violating Section 512(f), which bars misrepresentations of unauthorized use. According to Lenz, before sending its notice, they failed to take into account the possibility that Lenz’s video was shielded by the fair use doctrine. Last week, in Lenz v. Universal, a.k.a. the “dancing baby case,” the Ninth Circuit sided with Lenz in a ruling that will impose new burdens on copyright holders policing hosted content.
As social media platforms continue to find new ways to allow users to share, post, and forward nonoriginal content and users become more engaged in the practice, the platforms hosting the content and disgruntled original content owners are bound to clash. In the past, Google, YouTube and others have been targeted for allowing users to post copyright-protected material, and ordered to remove the objected to material. A recent case filed in the Central District of California involves similar allegations against social media powerhouse Twitter. In Pierson v. Twitter, Inc., the plaintiff alleges that users tweeted her copyrighted image and that Twitter failed to remove the infringing material.