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'Dancing Baby' Wins Copyright Case

A baby bobs up and down in a kitchen, as a Prince song plays in the background. His mother laughs in the background and his older sister zooms in and out of the frame.

This innocuous 29-second home video clip was posted to YouTube in 2007 and sparked a long legal proceeding on copyright and fair use law.

In the case, Lenz v. Universal — which has gained notoriety as the "dancing baby" lawsuit — Universal Music Group sent YouTube a warning to take the video down, claiming copyright infringement under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Then, Stephanie Lenz, poster of the video and mother of the baby, represented by Electronic Frontier Foundation, sued Universal for wrongly targeting lawful fair use.

Today, eight years later, a federal appeals court has sided with the dancing baby.

The three-judge panel in San Francisco ruled unanimously in favor of Lenz and the EFF, saying copyright holders must consider whether a use of material is fair before sending a take-down notice.

NPR's Laura Sydell reports for our Newscasts:

"Fair Use permits people to use copyrighted material in certain situations like satire or news. Now three judges on the 9th circuit say that unless Universal evaluated whether it was fair use, it may have violated the rights of the video maker. The case is significant because critics say copyright owners like Universal abuse the take down process often at the expense of free expression."

The timing of the case is also significant, the EFF said in a statement.

"Heated political campaigns—like the current presidential primaries—have historically led to a rash of copyright takedown abuse. Criticism of politicians often includes short clips of campaign appearances in order to make arguments to viewers, and broadcast networks, candidates, and other copyright holders have sometimes misused copyright law in order to remove the criticism from the Internet.

"'The decision made by the appeals court today has ramifications far beyond Ms. Lenz's rights to share her video with family and friends,' said McSherry. 'We will all watch a lot of online video and analysis of presidential candidates in the months to come, and this ruling will help make sure that information remains uncensored.'"

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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