Activist groups drop lawsuit after Viacom drops
YouTube takedown demand
By Julia Cheever
April 23, 2007
Two activist groups today dismissed a lawsuit they filed in
federal court in San Francisco last month against Viacom
International Inc. for demanding removal of a
parody of the Colbert Report from YouTube.
MoveOn.org Civic Action and
Films said they dropped the case because Viacom admitted its
action was an error and took steps to protect Internet users'
free speech rights.
Von Lohmann, an Electronic Frontier
Foundation lawyer who represented MoveOn.org, said the media
conglomerate had taken important steps "to respect newsworthy
and transformative uses of their material."
The attorney said, "We hope other media companies will follow
The humorous video, entitled "Stop
the Falsiness," was made by Berkeley-based MoveOn.org
and Brave New Films of Culver City and posted on YouTube's Internet
site last August.
It was a take-off on comedian Stephen Colbert and his television
series "The Colbert Report" on the Comedy Central cable
network, which is owned by New York-based Viacom. The title was
a play on Colbert's use of the word "truthiness" and
the short film used excerpts of his programs as well as comments
by a MoveOn speaker.
The parody was aimed at both Colbert, who himself parodies conservative
political pundits, and MoveOn's earnest political activism, according
to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
In March, Viacom demanded that YouTube remove the video on the
ground that it violated Viacom's copyrights. A few days later,
the two groups sued Viacom, saying the video was protected by
the doctrine of fair use, which allows the use of excerpts of
copyrighted material for purposes of social commentary.
In letters to Electronic Frontier Foundation lawyers on March
27 and April 11, Viacom General Counsel Michael Fricklas said
the removal demand was "an error" and outlined the company's
steps for protecting fair use of copyrighted material.
The steps include a public recognition of the fair use doctrine
and a procedure for quick response to complaints of improper removal
demands, known as "takedown" notices.
MoveOn.org Civic Action executive director Eli Pariser said,
"This new endorsement of Internet users' rights is a victory
for the little guy. Pariser said, "Online sites like YouTube
have revolutionized political expression and can give the little
guy an audience of millions for a political point of view. A corporate
powerhouse like Viacom must not be allowed to erase political
content or muzzle political expression."
MoveOn was represented in the case by the San Francisco-based
Electronic Frontier Foundation and Brave New Films was represented
by the Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society.
Viacom spokesman Jeremy Zweig said, "We are pleased that
MoveOn and EFF are recognizing the effective processes we have
consistently applied since we began taking down our unauthorized
content from YouTube.
"We appreciate that they dropped their suit after learning
about our efforts to ensure that our takedowns are appropriately
targeted at piracy," Zweig said.
Viacom has a separate lawsuit pending in federal court in New
York against YouTube and its owner, Google Inc., seeking more
than $1 billion in damages for alleged "massive copyright
infringement" in nearly 160,000 unauthorized clips of Viacom
programming posted on YouTube. That lawsuit was filed on March
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