Public Access Channel Tries To Shut Down Use Of Council Meeting Video Clips; Claims They Aren't Fair Use

from the if-we-don't-like-the-context,-it's-unfair-use dept

Apparently enough time has passed since the last episode of (attempted) copyright thuggery that someone feels it's time to take their IP wheels out for a disastrous spin.

A student-focused political action group is the recipient of a bogus cease-and-desist demand from a local non-profit. BugPAC was formed from the ashes of members' respect for local politicians and school administrators, as detailed in the origin story at its website.

At the May 4, 2015, meeting, student leaders went to the Borough Council and requested additional street lights in downtown alleyways heavily traveled by students. The proposal was dismissed virtually out of hand. In response to the request, Councilwoman Theresa Lafer implied that if the lights were installed, students would gather around those lights like bugs and cause property damage.

And thus, the BugPAC was born.

The group began advocating for candidates it felt might be more responsive to student issues. It produced a promo video using some footage of public council meetings.

The BugPAC Campaign to reclaim State College released a video on its Facebook page early May 1 explaining the strengths of its endorsed candidates — Michael Black for State College Mayor and Marina Cotarelo, Evan Myers, and Dan Murphy for Borough Council.

The video also highlights anti-student sentiments from current Borough Council members and current State College Mayor Elizabeth Goreham using C-NET footage from Borough Council meetings, which is all available for free on the C-Net website.

C-NET, however, apparently doesn't feel the footage of public meetings belongs to the public in any way, shape, or form. Four days after BugPAC posted its video, it received a threat-o-gram from C-NET. C-NET claims all the video it hosts is "solely" its property, even if it's only engaged in documenting meetings open to the public.

Even if we grant C-NET this part of its IP assertions, there's still a little thing called fair use, and that's very definitely what BugPAC's use of C-NET clips is. However, C-NET clearly doesn't think so. It claims in its letter that it "reviewed" the video and proactively determined BugPAC's use of the clips wasn't "fair use." This is a hilarious conclusion to reach as a complainant. C-NET is not just wrong about fair use in the expected way. It's wrong about fair use in a very novel way -- one that involves making very ill-informed decisions on behalf of the accused.

Kevin Horne of BugPAC has not only refused to take down the group's video, but has fired back with a lengthy explanation of fair use and how the disputed video's use of C-NET clips is clearly that. If C-NET's legal representation takes the time to read the entire letter, it may be the first time its lawyers have actually perused the legalities of the right C-NET tried to preemptively deny BugPAC.

Horne's letter also goes on to attack C-NET's attempt to limit the public's use of public meeting recordings.

“BugPAC has reviewed your bald allegation that you “reviewed the Video and determined that [BugPAC’s] use of C-Net material does not qualify as ‘fair use’ under the Copyright Act” and believes, as set forth above, that such a claim lacks merit,” he wrote. “Beyond the legal analysis is the question of morality and proper use of public resources to promote the public welfare and transparency in government. The public has the right not only to access C-Net material, but to make commentary on it. In C-Net’s case, it plays a crucial function in the democratic process by recording and archiving public meetings of great consequence. These are elected officials in a public forum. It is not for C-Net to deny our right to present that information to voters or for the voters to consider it. C-Net’s current policy works against a reasonable definition of the common good.”

This should be enough to shut C-NET up about its unviolated copyright. Then again, it might not. There are other issues possibly at play here. BugPAC endorsed Michael Black for State College Mayor in its video. As BugPAC notes in its post, C-NET's executive director is married to a competing mayoral candidate. This may be why C-NET was right on top of the alleged infringement within four days of the video's posting. If so, this attempt to fight unliked speech by threatening the free speech of others (rather than using the less popular "MORE speech" option), C-NET and its apparent favored mayoral candidate could be in for more unscheduled public appearances.

Filed Under: city council, copyright, fair use
Companies: bugpac

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  1. icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 12 May 2017 @ 11:13am

    “If you can’t out-argue them, just leverage the judiciary by way of legal threats—that oughta shut ’em up right good!” — C-NET’s lawyers, probably

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