US Mother Sues Music Group for Pulling Down Her Tiny Tot’s YouTube Jig

by Gopalan on Jul 21 2008 1:43 PM

Stephanie Lenz, a Pennsylvania mother, is sueing a leading music group for pulling down her tiny tot’s You Tube jig to the tunes of a copyrighted song.

Lenz's attorneys were in federal district court on Friday morning, trying to thwart a motion to dismiss her lawsuit against Universal Music Group. A year ago, the music label ordered YouTube to pull down a 30-second video she shot of her 18-month-old infant son dancing to popular singer Prince's song "Let's Go Crazy."

"A well-placed source directly involved in the situation" had told ABC that Prince was "directly involved" in the take-down notice. "This guy scours the Internet," the source said. "He's really intense about this stuff."

"We have a deal where we license music to YouTube, and it's a great arrangement," a source said. "The only caveat is that if an artist or a songwriter decides they don't want their music up there, they inform us, and we ask YouTube to take it down."

Prince subsequently enlisted a British firm known as Web Sheriff to help with the removal of Prince-infringing material from YouTube, eBay, and the Swedish-based BitTorrent site PirateBay, but the Lenz Dance Video predates the firm's involvement

Lenz fought the order, and eventually, Universal Music abandoned any claim that she violated Prince's copyright. YouTube has since reposted her clip.

Now the mother is out to teach the music industry a lesson. She is asserting that her video is protected under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and the Fair Use provision in copyright law.

On Friday, her lawyers told U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel in California that Lenz is protected by fair-use principles, which permit limited free use of copyrighted materials. Universal lawyer Kelly Klaus sought to dismiss the case, claiming Universal doesn't have to consider such protections before sending so-called take-down notices

"This video is so clearly noninfringing," Corynne McSherry of the Electronic Frontier Foundation said. "What we've seen is that Universal Music had the view that they could take down Prince content as a matter of principle. But what they were obligated to do was form a good-faith belief that the video was infringing...They may not have formed a good-faith belief at all."

U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel said he would take the matter under consideration after hearing arguments from both sides.

In April, Fogel had tossed out the lawsuit Lenz filed against Universal in October. Fogel said her argument that Universal was misusing its copyright was weak.

The judge did allow Lenz's EFF attorneys, however, to try their arguments a second time.

EFF promptly filed a second complaint, arguing that Universal Music should compensate Lenz for falsely accusing her of violating the law and getting her video removed from Google's video-sharing service. The music label has asked the judge to dismiss the case.

A lawyer for Universal Music argued that the label isn't liable for ordering Lenz's video to be removed because it doesn't have to think about Fair Use prior to sending take-down notices. There is no legal obligation to think about it in advance.

EFF, which advocates for the rights of Internet users, disagrees. The group has always said there is real harm caused when a media company issues take-down notices. For example, Lenz had to spend time learning why her video was taken down and convincing YouTube that she had not violated copyright law.

Even though Universal Music now says it no longer considers Lenz's baby video to be infringing on its copyright, Lenz says just receiving the take-down letter caused her harm.