EFF, Lawrence Lessig Launch Lawsuit Over Phoenix Video Takedown

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Lawrence Lessig have filed suit against the Australian independent label Liberation Music for “misusing copyright law” to scrub from YouTube a lecture which carried a Phoenix tune.

The video at the center of the suit is a June 2010 lecture titled “Open,” which the Harvard Law School professor delivered at a Creative Commons conference in South Korea. During the presentation, several short clips of amateur dance videos play out to Phoenix’s song “Lisztomania.”

The watchdog group is arguing that copyright law allows for the fair use of works for purposes such as criticism, comment, teaching, and scholarship, and that Lessig’s use of the “Lisztomania” clips was a “classic example of fair use” and was not copyright infringement.

According to the EFF, the Melbourne-based Liberation began the process to block the video through YouTube’s copyright infringement system. Liberation, a division of the Mushroom Group of Companies, has the license to distribute and represent the Phoenix recording in Australia and New Zealand.

After the company submitted a DMCA takedown notice, the EFF claims, Lessig filed a counter-notice that asserted the clips were “fair use”. The EFF explains that Liberation Music threatened to sue Lessig, the professor retracted the notice and later joined forces with EFF to launch legal proceedings.

With co-counsel Jones Day, EFF is asking a federal judge in Massachusetts to stop Liberation Music from making further legal threats. And to award unspecified damages.

Click here for the full complaint.

“The rise of extremist enforcement tactics makes it increasingly difficult for creators to use the freedoms copyright law gives them,” comments Lessig, a co-founder of Creative Commons. “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.”

A spokesperson for Liberation declined to comment.

"The group, my partner and I had not heard anything about this matter until we read it in the press. We were unaware of any lawsuit or copyright issue," the band's co-manager Simon White tells Billboard. "We're gathering in depth information on the dispute now which we will discuss internally and take whatever action seems appropriate in due course."