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Universal Says DMCA Takedown Notices Can Ignore "Fair Use"

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Intellectual Property

SAN JOSE, California -- Universal Music told a federal judge here Friday that takedown notices requiring online video-sharing sites to automatically remove content need not consider whether videos are protected by the “fair use" doctrine.

The doctrine permits limited use of copyright materials without the owner's permission. The music company made the argument Friday as part of a lawsuit brought by a Pennsylvania woman whose 29-second video of her toddler dancing to Prince's “Let's Go Crazy" was removed last year after Universal sent YouTube a takedown notice under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

The act requires the automatic removal of material a rights holder claims is infringing its copyrights. If it isn't removed, legal liability can be placed on YouTube or other video- sharing sites. But the act also allows the uploader -- in this case, the Pennsylvania mother of the dancing toddler -- to demand the video return online. Universal did not challenge Stephanie Lenz's assertion that the video was a “fair use" of Prince's song. After being taken down for six weeks, the video went back online last year, having now generated about half a million hits.

The courthouse dispute on Friday centered on a rarely used clause in the DMCA -- originally approved by Congress in 1998 -- allowing victims of meritless takedown notices to seek damages in a bid to deter such notices and breaches of First Amendment speech. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, the woman's law firm, asked U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel on Friday to award attorneys' fees and other unspecified monetary damages under Section 512 of the DMCA.

In what Fogel said was a “case of first impression," Universal attorney Kelly Klaus said Universal or other copyright holders are not liable for damages when somebody asserts fair use to reverse a takedown notice.

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