City Sues Resident Who Used City Council Footage In YouTube Videos

inglewoodSection 107 of the Copyright Act permits “fair use” of copyrighted materials “for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching…, scholarship, or research.” But the leaders of one California city don’t think this applies to critical videos made using footage from its city council meetings.

Earlier this year, the City of Inglewood in Los Angeles County sued a YouTube user after he uploaded videos that criticize Mayor James Butts and others.

The clips utilize video from Inglewood city council meetings to illustrate his issues, but the lawsuit [PDF] alleges that the YouTuber violated Inglewood’s copyright and that the city “has suffered, and will continue to suffer, irreparable harm and damages” as a a result.

The city claims that the YouTube videos made from the copyrighted council footage do not fall under the fair use exception because they “have no critical bearing on the substance or style of the original composition.”

However, all three of the videos we looked at from this account directly critiqued or reported on what was being shown in the council footage. We’re not lawyers — and we certainly don’t know enough about Inglewood politics to comment on the accuracy of what’s alleged in the YouTube videos — but this sort of direct criticism is generally considered by news media to be fair use.

And we’re not alone in coming to this conclusion.

“When you are taking somebody else’s material, not just to reproduce it but to comment on it and criticize it and sometimes to parody it … that is generally fair use,” UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh tells the L.A. Times.

The YouTuber says he started making the videos after he says the police chose to not investigate a drive-by shooting he’d witnessed. He tells the Times that the city denied the existence of his 9-1-1 calls until after he was able to get them to produce the tapes.

“If I take these tapes, and I compare them to what they’re saying in the video of the meetings, it would be clear that they are blatantly lying,” he explains. “That’s when I started thinking about making videos…. I’ve got the time, so I’m just going to start documenting this.”

The man’s lawyer has asked the court to dismiss the copyright suit and ruling is expected soon.

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