While there are still copyright maximalists out there who insist that copyright can't
be used for censorship, it looks like we've got yet another example, and it's a crazy one. Gordon Klingenschmitt, a former Navy chaplain, who is running for the Colorado legislature on what appears to be the extreme "I hate gay people" ticket, has been able to kill off the YouTube account of Right Wing Watch
, a group that (as you may have guessed) highlights and mocks extreme comments from "right wing" politicians. Over the last few months, they've been posting a few
of Klingenschmitt's (who goes by "Dr. Chaps") wackier
statements, including video clips of him making those statements. This is pretty clear fair use, but Klingenschmitt started using YouTube's copyright claim system
to take down the videos.
In part, he argues that the videos are infringing (actually, he argues "plagiarism" which is different than copyright infringing, and the videos are actually neither), but he also focuses on the YouTube comments
on those videos. Klingenschmitt claimed that the YouTube comments amounted to "death threats" from RWW's followers -- though, they're pretty standard crazy YouTube comments, not serious death threats. Also, since the comments are not made by RWW, but viewers on YouTube, RWW is not liable for them. However, he kept sending takedowns
, and eventually YouTube terminated RWW's account
, arguing that it was their third strike.
In response to this abuse of YouTube's takedown policy, Klingenschmitt released a press release
congratulating himself, saying "David takes down Goliath." Tim Murphy, from Mother Jones, asked
Klingenschmitt if he felt he should be held similarly responsible for the YouTube comments on his own videos, and Klingenschmitt said that if the user is alerted to comments and don't take action, they become responsible, which is actually not what the law says.
Either way, this appears to be another case where copyright claims are being used to censor content that someone doesn't like. And, given that it's in the context of a political campaign for office, that's especially concerning. Stifling criticism of a political candidate by abusing the law should be seen as a huge problem. Hopefully YouTube acts quickly to restore RWW's account. Whether you agree with RWW or not, hopefully you can agree that (1) they should be allowed to post fair use video and criticize politicians they disagree with and (2) they should not be held accountable for comments made by YouTube viewers.