Television “psychic” Uri Geller claims to be able to bend spoons with the power of his mind. So we’d have guessed the paranormalist would silence critic Brian Sapient, who uploaded a 13-minute debunking video to YouTube in March of last year, by frying his brain with a telekinetic bolt.
Instead, Geller filed a takedown notice under the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Geller’s complaint? That the video, originally part of a sceptical NOVA program called “Secrets of the Psychics,” contained an eight-second long clip that was under Geller’s copyright. Google’s (GOOG) video site complied and suspended Sapient’s account, and all of his videos, for two weeks.
But Sapient, who belongs to a debunking group called the “Rational Response Squad,” fought back. Together with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Sapient sued Geller for filing a fraudulent DMCA complaint. Muddying the legal waters, Geller countersued, charging that British copyright law should hold sway as he’s a citizen of the UK. Earlier this week, the case settled, in what appears to be a victory for Sapient and a defeat for the Israeli-British psychic. The disputed eight seconds of video has been released under a noncommercial Creative Commons licence and the video is back up on YouTube.
This isn’t the only time YouTube has been the flashpoint of controversy over charges that copyright holders have been using the DMCA in a predatory manner. Last year, a Pennsylvania woman sued Universal for damages when the music company filed a DMCA takedown request over YouTube video of her baby dancing to Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy.” More recently, Brooklyn-based investigative firm GrayZone owned up to having “erroneously issued takedown notices to YouTube” that knocked videos of a Led Zeppelin reunion concert offline.
The Geller case is another example of what appears to a troubling trend — the cavalier use of the DMCA to quash free speech. We’re sensitive to the plight of copyright holders who see their intellectual property rights flouted on YouTube or Pownce. But just as content creators need legal protections, so do the rest of us, and we hope the courts will take an increasingly dim view of predatory DMCA filings.
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