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We’ve covered the Stephanie Lenz / dancing baby / fair use case for years — but now it looks like there’s finally going to be a trial to consider if Universal Music can be punished for sending a DMCA takedown notice on a video of Lenz’s infant son dancing to 29 seconds of a song by Prince, which Lenz asserts was clearly fair use.
If you haven’t followed the case, it’s been argued back and forth for years. At one point, the court ruled that a copyright holder does need to take fair use into account before sending a DMCA takedown, but that there needs to be “subjective bad faith” by Universal Music in sending the takedown. In other words, Lenz (and the EFF, who is representing her) needs to show, effectively, that Universal knew that it was sending bogus takedowns. The EFF has argued that willful blindness by Universal meant that it had knowledge (amusingly, using precedents in copyright cases in the other direction, where copyright holders argue that willful blindness can be infringement)….
There are a few other issues being fought over — including Universal Music’s contention that the DMCA doesn’t apply at all here (both because it insists it wasn’t really sending a DMCA takedown, even as YouTube required a DMCA takedown, and because it’s arguing that YouTube itself doesn’t qualify for the DMCA because it helps process videos — an argument courts have rejected repeatedly). However, Universal also sought summary judgment on the fair use issue in the other direction, arguing that it is clear that Universal did not have “subjective bad faith” in issuing the takedown, since it believed the takedown to be legit (and still does…).
The judge has rejected both arguments for summary judgment, saying that there are disputed facts that need to have a full trial — in part because Lenz failed to show any evidence that Universal had reason to believe that there was a high probability that some of the videos it was taking down would be covered by fair use. This point is necessary if Lenz is going to demonstrate willful blindness.
Lenz does not present evidence suggesting that Universal subjectively believed either that there was a high probability that any given video might make fair use of a Prince composition or that her video in particular made fair use of Prince’s song “Let’s Go Crazy.” Lenz argues that her video was “self-evident” fair use and that Universal must have known it constituted fair use when it sent the Takedown Notice. However, as the Ninth Circuit recently has observed, the process of making a fair use determination “is neither a mechanistic exercise nor a gestalt undertaking, but a considered legal judgment.” …. A legal conclusion that fair use was “self-evident” necessarily would rest upon an objective measure rather than the subjective standard required by Rossi. Indeed, Universal presents evidence that Lenz herself initially did not view her claim as involving fair use….
Accordingly, the Court concludes that Lenz is not entitled to summary judgment based on the theory that Universal willfully blinded itself to the possibility that her video constituted fair use of Prince’s song. Nor is Universal entitled to summary judgment, as it has not shown that it lacked a subjective belief that there was a high probability that any given video might make fair use of a Prince composition. Lenz is free to argue that a reasonable actor in Universal’s position would have understood that fair use was “self-evident,” and that this circumstance is evidence of Universal’s alleged willful blindness. Universal likewise is free to argue that whatever the alleged shortcomings of its review process might have been, it did not act with the subjective intent required by §512(f).
In other words, this case, which has gone on for years, is going to continue for even more time as a full trial is about to happen.
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