Earlier this week, we pointed out the letter the McCain campaign had sent YouTube concerning observing fair use before complying with takedown notices on political videos. As we noted at the time, the problem with the situation wasn't with YouTube, but with the DMCA (which McCain voted for, by the way). Now, YouTube's Zahavah Levine has responded to the letter, and made the same point. YouTube won't change its practices because that would be granting special privileges to the campaign rather than everyone else. Instead, YouTube hopes that McCain will help fix the law so that this isn't a problem going forward:
While we agree with you that the U.S. presidential election-related content is invaluable and worthy of the highest level of protection, there is a lot of other content on our global site that our users around the world find to be equally important, including, by way of example only, political campaigns from around the globe at all levels of government, human rights movements, and other important voices. We try to be careful not to favor one category of content on our site over others, and to treat all of our users fairly, regardless of whether they are an individual, a large corporation or a candidate for public office.
The real problem here is individuals and entities that abuse the DMCA takedown process....
We look forward to working with Senator (or President) McCain on ways to combat abuse of the DMCA takedown process on YouTube, including by way of example, strengthening the fair use doctrine....
This is the right response. As problematic as the takedown process is, the answer should be to fix the law -- not make special exceptions for politicians.
This is impressive, and somewhat unexpected. It's rather rare to see politicians (other than maginal ones, at least) showing any sort of recognition of fair use. It's certainly not an issue you'd expect to see raised by a presidential candidate (of either party). However, John McCain's campaign has sent a letter to YouTube complaining about the site's unwillingness to consider fair use in videos before taking them down. You can read the whole letter at that link or below (if you're not reading via a feed):
The letter basically notes that YouTube seems a bit too fast on the trigger in pulling down content based on DMCA takedown notices, in part parroting the some of the recent ruling where a judge said that those sending DMCA notices need to at least take fair use into consideration. Of course, that was directed at the sender of the DMCA takedown notice, not the recipient, as in this case. I'm sure the McCain campaign recognizes that YouTube is completely within its legal rights to automatically pull down the content, but in sending this letter the campaign is suggesting that, specific to videos put up by either political campaign (the letter cc's the Obama campaign), that YouTube take into account fair use.
The letter is addressed to YouTube's founder, Chad Hurley, as well as Google's Senior Copyright Counsel, William Patry (who we've talked about and quoted here many times) and Zahavah Levine, who is General Counsel for YouTube, who I've met and spoken with in the past. Both Patry and Levine are well aware of the legal issues here (probably better than just about anyone else), so it will be quite interesting to see how they respond. The real issue here has almost nothing to do with Google/YouTube -- but with the way the DMCA itself is structured. Since it provides clear safe harbor for a recipient of a takedown notice if they take down the content, it's a reasonable business decision to simply take down the content and then follow the proper procedures for letting the uploader file a response notice.
While it certainly would be nice for YouTube to take into account fair use before deciding whether or not to pull down the content, the real problem is with the law itself, and the incentives it puts in place for any recipient of such a letter. If the McCain (or Obama) campaign were really concerned with that, they should not just ask for this special exception to YouTube's official policies, but should promise to push for a change to the DMCA that makes an explicit point that recipients of such takedown notices shall retain their safe harbor protections even if they refuse to take down content, if they have a reasonable belief that the content in question is being used in accordance with fair use rules.