May First, Yes Men and "Becky Boop" Ask Supreme Court to Hear DMCA Case

May First/People Link has joined the Yes Men and Internet news commentator Rebecca (“Becky Boop”) Prince in an [Amicus Brief fighting corporate control over Internet content]( speakers-amicus-brief.pdf) that was submitted to the Supreme Court today.

The case began when Universal Music Publishing Group forced the removal of a video of a dancing girl (posted by her mother) using the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) simply because music playing in the background was under their copyright ownership.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), representing the mother, won the case to have the video re-posted under the fair use standard. However, the EFF is asking the Supreme Court to review a lower-court decision made during the case that affirmed the legality of a corporation demanding the removal of content using the Digital Millenium Copyright Act provided they truly “believe” their copyright has been violated, which is a grossly broad standard.

This contention is what the EFF and its three Amici are asking the Court to take up. The three are represented by Phillip R. Malone and Jef Pearlman of the Stanford University Law School’s Mills Legal Clinic.

In 2007, Stephanie Lenz shot a half-minute video of her toddler dancing to a song by popular music artist Prince and posted it on Youtube. Universal Records issued a DMCA notice to Youtube and the company immediately took the video off-line.

DMCA notices are actually letters sent by a company or person who feels their copyright has been violated. It demands the material be removed. Companies tend to cooperate when a DMCA notice is issued. DMCA laws protect a content provider from any damages if the material posted is copy-right protected if they remove the material as soon as the notice is received. If it isn’t removed, and a court subsequently finds that there has been a violation of copyright law, the damages and fines can be astronomical.

Note: May First/People Link has never removed a website because of a DMCA notice without the member’s decision to do so. We have had many DMCA demands sent to us.

In a long string of trials and appeals, Lenz (represented by EFF) sued and won, claiming that Universal had suffered no copyright infringement and that it sent the DMCA notice without any basis in fact. Universal took the case through appeals courts up to the (Federal) Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Last year, that Court found with Lenz that there had been no copyright violation but also wrote that, if Universal truly believed its copyright had been violated, it had the right to issue the DMCA letter.

“All that’s on the table and all we want to argue before the Court is the arbitrary standards that are applied with DMCA,” Alfredo Lopez of May First/People Link explained. “In most cases, a DMCA notice means you have no Internet presence because the company takes you down. If we allow people to send those notice for frivilous reasons or without legal basis, the First Amendment goes out the window. Anyone can write a letter forcing you to take down material critical of them.”

“The EFF case that we’re supporting” he said, “is really about forcing these companies to comply with reasonable and commonly acceptable standards before to quash other people’s speech.”

The Supreme Court will now decide whether it will take the case.