Last December, YouTube removed more than a dozen videos on the site that showed common practices at rodeos, such as tame horses being tasered to make them buck and calves being injured in roping contests and dragged off to die.
The videos, and the account of the nonprofit anti-cruelty group that posted them--Showing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK)--were removed from YouTube for about two weeks after the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association claimed they violated copyright under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
YouTube put them back up after SHARK convinced the site that the DMCA takedown notices were improper. To make sure the videos stay online, SHARK, with the help of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, filed a lawsuit on Monday in federal court in Chicago.
The suit asks the court to affirm that the videos do not infringe any copyrights and to hold the rodeo group accountable for filing "spurious claims."
"This copyright claim is completely baseless, and made simply to block the public from seeing SHARK's controversial videos," EFF Staff Attorney Corynne McSherry said in a statement.
A spokeswoman for the rodeo association said the group had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment until then.
A YouTube spokesman said the company does not comment on specific videos, but offered this statement: "YouTube complies with DMCA takedown requests from parties who claim to own a piece of content. If an uploader wants to contest ownership, they can file a DMCA counter-notice and YouTube will restore the video to the site."
The lawsuit is part of EFF's No Downtime for Free Speech Campaign, which is designed to protect online expression in the face of baseless copyright claims.
Last year, the EFF sued Viacom on behalf of a group that posted a parody video of The Colbert Report on YouTube, which Viacom had demanded be removed citing copyright law. The EFF later dropped the suit after Viacom admitted it had erred in asking that the video be removed.