A federal appeals court delivered a blow to the music industry today, ruling that a case brought against Prince and Universal Music Group for misuse of copyright law can move forward to trial. The decision could be a significant one for both YouTube, where the copyright issue originated, as well as Facebook, which was already racking up 4 billion video views per day back in April.
Pennsylvania mom Stephanie Lenz sued Universal back in 2008, alleging that the company violated her rights when it issued a “takedown letter” in response to a YouTube video she had posted, which featured her toddler dancing to the Prince song “Let’s Go Crazy.” Universal tried to have the case dismissed, but today’s ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected that motion and stated that copyright holders have to consider “fair use” before issuing such a letter. In other words, Lenz’s use of the song was harmless and could fall under the fair use clause, which protects the use of copyrighted work in areas like commentary and parody.
“Copyright holders cannot shirk their duty to consider—in good faith and prior to sending a takedown notification—whether allegedly infringing material constitutes fair use,” Judge Richard Tallman wrote in the ruling.
While the court’s ruling will merely allow the case to go before a jury, it calls on companies like Universal to spend more time evaluating copyright issues before sending out takedown letters. This could make it tougher for copyright holders to get material removed from the Internet—something that Prince is particularly known for being a stickler about: Last year, he sued 22 Facebook users and bloggers for copyright infringement.
The court’s decision is also a big one at a time when video content is quickly becoming ubiquitous: Facebook’s news feed is now home to billions of autoplay videos, while platforms like Snapchat and Vine have expanded the medium to include looping videos and ephemeral video messages. For better or for worse, it’s no longer realistic–or fair–for record labels to call out every alleged copyright violation on the Internet.
[via San Jose Mercury News]