YouTube in Political Tug-of-War

NEW YORK YouTube can’t seem to avoid the political fray. Two weeks ago, NBC demanded the popular video venue pull an Obama ad that incorporated pieces of its news content without authorization. Now, the McCain camp has complained to the Google-owned site that it has “silenced political speech” because it has been too quick to pull the trigger on takedown notices of election ads and video clips by those claiming copyright infringement.

But YouTube responded to the McCain campaign on Tuesday that it had little choice but to pull the spots upon request or risk its status as a “safe harbor” content exhibitor under provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

The latest controversy erupted Monday when Trevor Potter, general counsel for the McCain campaign, wrote a letter to YouTube officials complaining of “numerous times” during the campaign when “our advertisements or videos have been the subject to DMCA takedown notices regarding uses that are clearly privileged under the fair use doctrine.” Potter didn’t reference specific examples, but said in all cases they involved fewer than 10 seconds of copyrighted material and thus satisfied fair use provisions of copyright law.

Potter proposed that YouTube conduct a “full legal review” of all takedown notices related to videos pertaining to political candidates and campaigns to determine if the notice “has substantial merit.”

Responding to Potter’s letter, YouTube general counsel Zahavah Levine said that the online video site was not in a position to conduct such reviews. “YouTube does not possess the requisite information about the content in user-uploaded videos to make a determination as to whether a particular takedown notice includes a valid claim of infringement,” she said.

Levine said McCain and others whose uploaded content is subject to takedown notices can file counter notifications and “hold abusive claimants publicly accountable for their actions by publicizing their actions.”

Potter did not respond via e-mail when asked if McCain planned to pursue the matter further.