CDT Report Details How Meritless Copyright Claims Threaten Online Political Speech

The Center for Democracy & Technology today released a report that details how the continued misuse of copyright claims under the DMCA threatens to stifle online political speech.  The report examines a dozen cases where meritless copyright claims were successful in having some kind of online political campaign ad removed from services like YouTube.

"The role of online platforms in political campaigns is only going to increase,” said CDT Senior Policy Counsel David Sohn.  “So the forced removal of campaign videos from popular websites poses a real threat to political speech."

The report chronicles takedown demands from the most well-known and respected media organizations in the U.S., aimed at ads for candidates from both major parties.   Although similarly overaggressive copyright claims have been made directly to campaigns in the past in the form of cease-and-desist letters, under current copyright law the online takedown process almost always results in immediate removal of the ad, no questions asked.   Campaigns often do not have adequate opportunity to refute any allegations before their ads disappear.

"We found no indication that these takedown notices were politically motivated," said CDT Policy Analyst Andrew McDiarmid.  "The networks, often by their own admission, are using the notice-and-takedown system to address concerns relating to their reputation and appearance of objectivity — things that have nothing to do with copyright," McDiarmid said.  

The report demonstrates that broadcasters and news organizations should take a more careful and nuanced approach when thinking about copyright claims and campaign-related speech.  Using short clips of broadcast footage in political ads will generally qualify as legal fair use and can play an important role in communicating a political message.  It should not result in forced takedowns, the report argues.