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Viacom Settles One YouTube Copyright Dispute

Viacom has admitted that it improperly tried to take down a parody of "The Colbert Report" from YouTube and announced a policy to be more careful in dealing with potential copyright violations.
Viacom has admitted that it improperly tried to take down a parody of "The Colbert Report" from YouTube, and it announced a policy to be more careful in dealing with potential copyright violations.

The action, announced Monday, led two plaintiffs, represented in part by members of Stanford Law School's Fair Use Project, to drop a lawsuit against Viacom. The lawsuit alleged that Viacom's copyright claims against the parody were without merit.

Brave New Films and left-wing political group MoveOn created the piece, titled "Stop the Falsiness." It made fun of Colbert's portrayal of Fox News while also ridiculing MoveOn's own reputation for political activism. It used clips from Comedy Central.

Viacom had denied sending a takedown notice under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, but later acknowledged it had mistakenly issued the notice. The video was removed from YouTube.

The plaintiffs, MoveOn and Brave New Films, said that as a result of the dispute over the video, Viacom outlined steps to protect fair use and free speech. The company claims it already had such procedures in place for reviewing its copyright-protected material on the Internet.

In either case, Viacom says it has real people reviewing videos flagged for potential copyright violations. The company also said it is training reviewers in fair use and to refrain from issuing takedown requests in fair use cases. Viacom said it does not endorse challenging the limited use of excerpts of its material for "creative, newsworthy or transformative" and noncommercial purposes. Finally, the company has agreed to set up a Web site and e-mail hotline for reviewing takedown complaints within one business day and promised to reinstate material if it erroneously issued a takedown request.

A statement on the Viacom Web site acknowledges that fair use doctrine allows for use of excerpts in criticism, commentary, teaching, and parody.

"There are no specific rules to determine whether a particular use is fair use," Viacom said in the statement. "Although our policy is not to take down material that we believe is a good faith fair use of our content, we cannot give you legal advice on this subject and we may enforce our rights if we disagree with a claim of fair use. Regardless of the law of fair use, we have not generally challenged users of Viacom copyrighted material where the use or copy is occasional and is a creative."

Viacom filed a lawsuit against YouTube and Google in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York last month. The company is seeking more than $1 billion in damages in a claim alleging that more than 160,000 Viacom video clips have been uploaded to the site without authorization and viewed more than 1.4 billion times. That lawsuit is still pending.

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