With just two weeks left until the presidential elections, a coalition of public interest groups is calling on both broadcast networks and YouTube to modify their approaches to copyright infringement claims that involve political content.
On Monday, groups including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union, and American University's Center for Social Media, sent an open letter (PDF) to CBS, the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), Fox, and NBC, asking them to stop sending Digital Millenium Copyright Act takedown notices to YouTube over short clips of news footage used in election-related videos. (Disclaimer: CNET is published by CBS Networks, home of CBS News.)
"Not only are such notices contrary to the law, but they also threaten to silence an exciting new source of political expression," the letter says. "This new form of expression, often built on quoting and remixing from news and other mainstream media sources, does not threaten the copyright interests of your organizations."
The letter notes that the networks have sent takedown notices to YouTube targeting videos made by both the Republican and Democratic presidential campaigns. It cites complaints from Republican John McCain's presidential campaign that its videos were removed from YouTube on unfounded copyright infringement claims.
"We understand your organizations' desire to be seen as neutral, but given the extremely short nature of the news clips at issue and the context in which these clips appear, it is unlikely that anyone would believe that the use of the clips by a candidate means that your organizations are somehow supporting that candidate," Monday's letter says.
YouTube responded to the McCain campaign's complaints last week, saying it could not give the campaigns special treatment by conducting a "full legal review" of political videos subject to takedown notices before removing them.
Yet in a second letter (PDF) sent Monday, the coalition of public interest groups also asks YouTube to more carefully review videos in question. The letter says YouTube staff should review counter-notices, and YouTube should immediately re-post the video in question if it clearly falls under the category of fair use, rather than wait 10 to 14 days.
"The relatively small number of counter-notices filed by users should make this a manageable task for YouTube personnel," the letter says.
The letter also suggests that once a user has submitted a valid counter-notice, any takedown notices issued against his or her account should be reviewed by YouTube staff before acted upon.
"We understand that whether a particular video constitutes a fair use can be a difficult determination to make," the letter says. "Nevertheless, there are clear cases, particularly where short news clips are used in the course of a political video intended as commentary or criticism."