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YouTube Sues Viacom for Blocking Parody Online

The parent company of Comedy Central, Viacom, has been sued by YouTube after Viacom requested that YouTube remove from its site a parody of The Colbert Report. The Colbert Report airs on Comedy Central.

The video at issue does contain some clips from The Colbert Report, MoveOn.org and Brave New World Films jointly argue that the use of the clips constitutes "fair use" pursuant to applicable copyright law. The companies argue that Viacom's attempts to have the video removed from the YouTube community website constitutes a misrepresentation and is subject to damages under the federal statutory provisions of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The lawsuit filed against Viacom seeks unspecified damages, attorneys fees and costs on the grounds that the plaintiffs" free-speech rights were violated.

The complaint was filed on March 22, 2007 in the Federal District Court of San Francisco. That law suit came one week after Viacom had filed its own $1 billion lawsuit against the YouTube community website, and YouTube's parent company, Google. The Viacom complaint contends that YouTube's website is awash in copyrighted videos from Viacom shows, including The Colbert Report.
According to the Viacom complaint, a takedown notice was sent to YouTube last week, and the video was blocked by YouTube almost immediately. However, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act gives users the right to sue the issuer of the take down request (in this case, Viacom) when it contains misrepresentations that an item may be infringing.

The parody "Stop the Falsiness," a play on host Stephen Colbert's use of the term "truthiness," was jointly produced by MoveOn and Brave New Films. Brave New Films is described as an activist production company that has made documentaries on the Iraq war, Wal-Mart, and on the Fox News Channel. "Truthiness" is said to define things that a person "claims to know intuitively, without regard to evidence, logic, or intellectual examination."

Historically, parody legally has been permissible in that it "pokes fun" at otherwise copyrighted material without confusing the public about its source of origin or usage. In the end, a balance between the public interest in constitutionally protected free speech and avoiding consumer confusion determines whether there has been an infringement pursuant to the Act. Simply, the Court has been called upon to ascertain whether or not MoveOn's "Stop the Falsiness" as made public on YouTube parodied The Colbert Report and therefore is protected under US copyright law.

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