San Francisco – Television networks should stop silencing political speech on the Internet, according to a letter the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Northern California and a coalition of public interest groups sent to four major television networks today. Several broadcasting companies have sent letters to YouTube demanding that they take down videos containing short clips of news coverage even when those clips are "fair use" and therefore legally posted.
"More and more of today's important political discussion is taking place online on sites like YouTube, and it's critical that free speech is protected there," said Aden Fine, senior staff attorney with the ACLU First Amendment Working Group. "Unfortunately, this valuable online political speech is repeatedly being threatened and shut down by overreaching copyright claims."
CBS, the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), Fox and NBC have all recently sent "takedown" notices to YouTube targeting election-related videos containing short clips of news footage for removal. Letters from the networks have prompted YouTube to take down videos posted by the McCain-Palin and Obama-Biden campaigns, as well as by individuals. Today's open letter from the coalition calls on the four networks to stop using unsubstantiated copyright infringement claims to stifle the free speech of the presidential campaigns and individuals expressing their views on the Internet.
The coalition also sent a separate letter to YouTube suggesting two measures for protecting the free speech rights of its users. First, YouTube staff should immediately review all counter-notices sent by YouTube users protesting copyright takedown demands and immediately restore any videos containing legitimate fair use of the materials. Second, in cases where YouTube users have provided counter-notice of their right to post materials, YouTube staff should review any subsequent takedown notices targeting videos posted to the same user accounts.
"Content owners and online service providers should think twice before taking actions to chill free speech online," said Nicole Ozer, Technology and Civil Liberties Policy Director at the ACLU of Northern California. "At a time when so much essential political discourse takes place in online forums, it is in everyone's best interest to protect the free speech rights of Internet users."
In addition to the ACLU and the ACLU of Northern California, the coalition includes the Electronic Frontier Foundation; the Citizen Media Law Project at Harvard's Berkman Center; Anthony Falzone, the Executive Director of Stanford's Fair Use Project; the American University School of Communication's Center for Social Media; the American University Law School Program for Information Justice & Intellectual Property; and Public Knowledge.
The coalition letter to broadcasters is available online here.
The coalition letter to YouTube is available online here.