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Environmentalists fight back, addressing important questions in the way the DMCA is used

The battlefield for the Digital Millenium Copyright Act just gained a new, unlikely set of occupants: environmentalists at SHARK (SHowing Animals Respect and Kindness) and the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.

According to a lawsuit filed (PDF) by the Electronic Frontier Foundation on behalf of SHARK, the PRCA “abused” the Digital Millenium Copyright Act by filing over a dozen takedown notices when the environmentalist group posted videos of animal abuse on YouTube.

The PRCA oversees a large number of rodeo events in the United States. SHARK focuses primarily on animal cruelty in rodeos and bullfighting.

Initially, YouTube complied with the PRCA’s requests, taking down SHARK’s YouTube account and the videos – posted between December 2006 and December 2007 – around the middle of December 2007. The outage lasted for a little more than a week; on Christmas Day 2007, YouTube restored SHARK’s videos and account a series of counter-notifications sent by SHARK’s lawyers.

In its lawsuit, the Electronic Frontier Foundation alleges that the PRCA “misused” the DMCA’s copyright takedown facilities, by falsely asserting copyright over videos it didn’t own.

“Live rodeo events are not copyrightable and that the PRCA’s copyright claim was baseless,” reads the complaint.

“The PRCA may not like it when our clients raise tough questions about how animals are treated at rodeos, “ said EFF Attorney Corynne McSherry in a press release issued Monday. “This copyright claim is … made simply to block the public from seeing SHARK's controversial videos. The PRCA can't be permitted to silence its critics through a misuse of the law.”

“We can't let the PRCA continue to interfere with SHARK's free speech rights,” said SHARK investigator Michael Kobliska. “It's simply not right for us to waste our time and money dealing with these baseless DMCA takedowns that block our message from getting out to the public.”

The lawsuit seeks to prevent the PRCA from filing future copyright complaints or lawsuits against SHARK.

While a seemingly routine quibble between environmentalists and animal handlers may at first glance seem unimportant in the larger arena of digital rights, SHARK’s lawsuit can have larger ramifications. Copyright law enforces penalties for falsely misrepresenting ownership in a takedown request, and the DMCA’s takedown provisions have a history of misuse.

More importantly, rules set in the DMCA are beginning to establish, indirectly, an international precedent. Sweeping Canadian copyright legislation, dubbed the “Canadian DMCA” by its backers, seeks to install “draconian” copyright rules and penalties and is styled in a similar fashion to the American law by the same name. Techdirt reports that the Canadian bill nearly died in late 2007 due to a public outcry, but was recently reinstated on a “fast track” as its backers try to get the bill approved as soon as possible.





"If they're going to pirate somebody, we want it to be us rather than somebody else." -- Microsoft Business Group President Jeff Raikes



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