Networks Police YouTube For Copyright Violations

The presidential campaigns have fallen victim to a common copyright problem on the Internet. News networks complained that campaign commercials were using their footage, and they demanded that YouTube take them off its site. Free speech advocates say this is a high-profile case that is part of an ongoing problem.

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Now that presidential candidates have gone to the Internet to get their message out, news networks are complaining about Internet campaign ads that use their footage. The networks say it's a copyright violation, and they demanded that the Internet site YouTube take them down. As NPR's Laura Sydell reports, this case is part of an ongoing battle.

LAURA SYDELL: The McCain campaign ran an ad defending Sarah Palin using a clip from "CBS Evening News" with Katie Couric.

(Soundbite of "CBS Evening News")

Ms. KATIE COURIC (Anchor, "CBS Evening News"): One of the great lessons of that campaign is the continued and accepted role of sexism in American life.

SYDELL: The only problem is Couric was talking about Hillary Clinton. When the McCain campaign put the ad up on YouTube, CBS sent a notice to the Web site asking them to take it down. They charged that McCain was using the network's copyrighted material. CBS News said it does not endorse candidates, and, quote, "any use of CBS personnel in political advertising that suggests the contrary is misleading." YouTube took down the ad. The McCain campaign sent the video hosting site a letter saying they had not violated any copyright laws. Mike Goldfarb of the McCain campaign suggests other motives for the takedown.

Mr. MIKE GOLDFARB (Deputy Communications Director, McCain Campaign): It may be easier for them to take those videos down than to actually deal with the facts of the case. It may be that there is some political bias involved.

SYDELL: Goldfarb is referring to Eric Schmidt's recent endorsement of Barack Obama. Schmidt is the CEO of Google, YouTube's parent company. But many copyright attorneys don't see political bias here, especially since YouTube also took down an Obama campaign ad after a copyright complaint.

Mr. JAMES BURGER (Copyright Attorney, Dow Lohnes PLLC): If I were YouTube's council, I would tell them take it down.

SYDELL: Jim Burger is a copyright attorney who follows online issues. He says under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, Internet service providers and Web hosts can be held responsible for what their users put up as soon as someone complains.

Mr. BURGER: Why take the risk? There's no reason for you to risk the lawsuit. Just the lawsuit itself is expensive.

SYDELL: YouTube is already in the middle of a billion-dollar copyright infringement suit being brought by Viacom. The problem is that the fear of lawsuits is pushing service providers to take down perfectly legal content. Burger and other copyright attorneys say the McCain commercial is clearly legal under something called the fair use doctrine, and fear of lawsuits is resulting in some very strange takedowns. Jeff Rosenstock has his own record company called Quote Unquote Records. His site broadcasts his own music and the musicians on his label. One day, his Internet service provider, IX Web Hosting, shut down his site. He called to ask them why.

Mr. JEFF ROSENSTOCK (Owner, Quote Unquote Records): I ask them what the infringing files were, and he listed off a bunch of songs that I had written. And I told him, hey, those are my songs, I'm not infringing anybody's rights.

SYDELL: IX Web Hosting demanded he prove they were his songs before they would put them back up. The only problem is, like most independent artists, Rosenstock never officially registered his songs. It took him a week of fighting to get his own songs back up on his own Web site. The McCain campaign might get their videos posted again, but it's likely to take days. Under the law, YouTube has 10 business days to review the situation. But in the midst of a political campaign, that much time can change an election. Laura Sydell, NPR News.

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