Harvard Law Professor Sues Australian Music Publisher Over Takedown of YouTube Lecture


After YouTube forced Harvard University law professor and Creative Commons co-founder Lawrence Lessig to take down a video of a lecture that featured people dancing to a copyrighted song, he has filed a complaint in a U.S. federal court.

IDG News Service reported that Lessig is getting assistance from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), an organization whose board he once served on that defends individuals and organization against copyright and patent abuses.

In a statement made through the EFF, Lessig said: “The rise of extremist enforcement tactics makes it increasingly difficult for creators to use the freedoms copyright law gives them. I have the opportunity, with the help of EFF, to challenge this particular attack. I am hopeful the precedent this case will set will help others avoid such a need to fight.”


The complaint stems from a 2010 lecture he delivered in South Korea on cultural and technological innovation. He presented clips of user-generated videos showing people dancing to Phoenix’s single “Lisztomania,” which was a popular meme at the time started by user “Avoidant Consumer,” who combined scenes of people dancing from several movies with the song playing in the background.

The video went live last June but complaints from Viacom and Australia-based music publisher Liberation Music via the Digital Millennium Copyright Act prompted YouTube to remove Lessig’s lecture twice. Lessig filed a complaint disputing Viacom’s block to YouTube and had his video restored on June 30. That same day, Liberation Music filed a complaint to YouTube, and the video-streaming platform informed Lessig that it removed his lecture video. Lessig made another complaint to YouTube, but on July 8, Liberation Music threatened to sue him if he did not retract his complaint, which he eventually did.

Now Lessig is trying to get a federal judge in Massachusetts to support his claim that his YouTube video was fair use and to stop Liberation Music from taking more legal action.

The Lessig-Liberation Music dispute is part of a growing dispute between online video outlets and entertainment companies over copyright. More recently, the National Music Publishers Association filed a lawsuit against independent multi-channel network Fullscreen over claims that they used unlicensed music in their uploads.

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