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Universal Accidentally Helped Make It Harder For Copyright Holders To Sue You

17 September 2015 | 12:05 pm | Staff Writer

Everybody wins. Well, except Universal

More Prince More Prince

Universal Music's ongoing battle against a toddler's mother, who posted a video of her child rhythmically bouncing along to Prince's Let's Go Crazy, has ended in favour of the bopping baby, with the US Ninth Circuit Court Of Appeals ruling Stephanie Lenz's 29-second clip is protected by the concept of fair use.

As San Francisco's SF Gate notes, the ruling — which comes after eight years of legal proceedings since Universal's original takedown notice in 2007 — essentially sets a precedent that will make it much harder for copyright-holders to take action against individuals who have used their songs for "brief, non-commercial" purposes. It should be noted, however, that it was not Universal who brought action against Lenz, but rather Lenz who sued Universal for "mistaken or wrongful denial of access to a posting or publication" after her video was kept off YouTube for six weeks following the label's claim of impropriety.

Although Universal's legal team had originally asserted that the video was a breach of copyright because of its alleged focus on Prince's music, Judge Richard Tallman explained in delivering the 3-0 ruling that the law "requires copyright-holders to consider fair use before sending a takedown notification", saying that Lenz's clip evidently adheres to fair use standards, which include "journalistic accounts and criticism, educational uses for teaching or research, and brief, private postings that don't damage the commercial market for the work".

Those rights-holders who fail to consider fair use before taking action against content such as Lenz's face the prospect of having to cough up for damages, with Lenz's representative, Corynne McSherry, saying the result "sends a strong message that copyright law does not authorise thoughtless censorship of lawful speech".

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"Congress gave copyright-holders extraordinary power to send an email and take content offline," she said. "With that kind of power comes responsibility to consider whether the posting was authorised."

The ruling has already drawn criticism from the creative industries, though Universal has not yet commented on the decision.