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A "Safe Harbor" Explainer: The LAMP's Amici Curiae in Viacom v. YouTube - The LAMP

A “Safe Harbor” Explainer: The LAMP’s Amici Curiae in Viacom v. YouTube

By November 4, 2013 News No Comments
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Last Friday, The LAMP joined several other signatories in an amici curiae filed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. In it, we argue that online service providers (OSPs) – in this case, YouTube – should retain “safe harbor” protections under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA), and that to remove an OSP like YouTube from safe harbor status would have a potentially chilling effect on free speech, fair use and political and artistic expression. You can click here to read the brief in its entirety.

So…great. What does all of that mean, and why should you care?

Let’s try to explain with an example. Since we’re talking about Viacom and YouTube, suppose that The LAMP wants to post the MTV Video Music Awards show, in its entirety, on our YouTube channel. This would be a blatant violation of Viacom’s copyright on MTV content. But because YouTube is a safe harbor under the DMCA, they have certain legal protections which could make them less liable, since they’re just a conduit for our actions. The idea is that The LAMP posted the content, so YouTube shouldn’t be held completely responsible for our silly mistake.

If OSPs like YouTube were no longer considered safe harbors, the ability of people to freely post and share content could be drastically limited. Other signatories to the amici curiae include the Anaheim Ballet Company, which uses YouTube to post videos of its performances; the team behind PoliticsTV, which uses video to rally support and raise awareness for political causes; and entertainers who use YouTube to promote their own work and broaden the reach of their message. If safe harbors like YouTube no longer existed, it would be much harder for for The LAMP and these other signatories to share work, because YouTube would have to be much stricter about the content on its network. Without safe harbor, one “bad” video could potentially send the entire company into bankruptcy. You yourself would be limited in what you could post on YouTube, and the amount and type of content available to you would shrink. YouTube’s takedown process is already notoriously opaque, so we can only imagine how much worse it would get if YouTube lost all of its legal protections.

Of course, the whole issue is more complicated when you go into details, but in broad strokes, this is why The LAMP cares about safe harbor protections and why you should too. We like using copyrighted content in our workshops, and so do our students – they gain a lot from taking an existing piece of media and turning it back on itself to comment on its message. It would be a terrible loss for The LAMP and our hundreds of students if the ability to create and share work like this was severely hindered, or removed altogether.

Finally, we’re very thankful to Ron Lazebnik and the legal interns at Lincoln Square Legal Services, Inc., who wrote and filed the brief. This team works tirelessly on behalf of The LAMP to keep us on the right side of copyright law, and has our endless gratitude.

And, if you want to support The LAMP and its advocacy work, be sure to click here and make a donation. We can’t do this without help from people like you.