It is unlikely that when Stephanie Lenz posted a home video of her children dancing to Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” on YouTube, she could have anticipated that, nearly a decade later, she would be seeking U.S. Supreme Court review in connection with that video. In Lenz v. Universal Music Corp., Ms. Lenz sued Universal Music Corporation for taking her video down from YouTube pursuant to a takedown notice sent to YouTube. That was in 2007. Universal claimed that the video violated their copyright in the “Let’s Go Crazy” song. As we previously discussed, the takedown notice is a provision in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that allows copyright holders to require a service provider, like YouTube, to “expeditiously” remove copyright-infringing content in order to avoid any liability for the infringement. Critics of this provision complain that it is often abused by corporate copyright holders to unjustifiably take down content that might otherwise constitute fair use. Ms. Lenz sent a counter notification to YouTube claiming fair use, and the video was subsequently reposted weeks later. Nonetheless, Ms. Lenz sued Universal for misrepresentation based on a little used provision of the DMCA and sought a declaration that her use was non-infringing. That provision, or Section 512(c)(3)(A)(v), requires that for the takedown notice to be effective, the copyright holder must have a “good faith” belief that use of the content is not authorized by the copyright holder, its agent or the law.
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.