Judge Rules Content Owners Obliged to Consider Fair Use Before Issuing Takedowns

SAN FRANCISCO - A judge's ruling last week is being considered a major victory for free speech and fair use on the Internet. Additionally, the ruling is expected to aid in protecting Web content providers.

In Lenz v. Universal (aka the "dancing baby" case), Judge Jeremy Fogel held that content owners must consider fair use before sending takedown notices under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, according to Corynne McSherry's blog on the Electronic Frontier Foundation's website.

"[A] fair use is a lawful use of a copyright," Fogel said. "Accordingly, in order for a copyright owner to proceed under the DMCA with "a good faith belief that use of the material in the manner complained of is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law," the owner must evaluate whether the material makes fair use of the copyright."

Universal maintained it would be near impossible for copyright owners to regulate copyright infringement if they had to consider whether a given use was fair.

The judge disagreed, saying, "[I]n the majority of cases, a consideration of fair use prior to issuing a takedown notice will not be so complicated as to jeopardize a copyright owner's ability to respond rapidly to potential infringements. The DMCA already requires copyright owners to make an initial review of the potentially infringing material prior to sending a takedown notice; indeed, it would be impossible to meet any of the requirements of Section 512(c) without doing so. A consideration of the applicability of the fair use doctrine simply is part of that initial review."

Additionally, the court pointed out that consideration of fair use is obligatory to ensure content owners do not abuse the takedown process:

"A good faith consideration of whether a particular use is fair use is consistent with the purpose of the statute. Requiring owners to consider fair use will help "ensure that the efficiency of the Internet will continue to improve and that the variety and quality of services on the Internet will expand" without compromising "the movies, music, software and literary works that are the fruit of American creative genius."