Universal Music is being hit with a federal lawsuit accusing it of abusing copyright law to force YouTube to remove a video of popular hip-hop stars — including Kanye West — singing the praises of the popular file-sharing site Megaupload.
YouTube last week dropped the 4-minute video, produced by the Hong Kong file-sharing service Megaupload, after having received two takedown notices under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The suit comes days ahead of a House Judiciary Committee hearing about the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act, which many complain gives rights holders too much power to censor websites that promote online infringement.
Ira Rothken, Megaupload’s attorney, said in a telephone interview Tuesday that Universal engaged in a “sham” takedown to prevent pop stars from applauding a file-sharing service that the music labels complain is a vehicle for rampant and unauthorized music downloading. The site boasts 50 million users daily.
“How can you claim a copyright in a performance of artists singing that they love Megaupload?” Rothken asked. “It doesn’t pass the giggle test. It’s a sham.”
Online service providers like YouTube lose their legal immunity for their users’ actions if they don’t remove allegedly infringing content if asked to by rights holders. If the content is not removed, the ISP could be held liable for damages under the Copyright Act, which carries penalties of up to $150,000 per violation.
Universal said the first takedown notice was intended to protect the rights of one of its musicians. Megaupload’s attorney, however, says New Zealand songwriter-singer Gin Wigmore isn’t even in the video.
“They were claiming she was in the video when she wasn’t,” Rothken said.
In a statement, Universal said:
This is an on-going dispute that surfaced several weeks ago with respect to the unauthorized use of a performance from one of our artists. We heard from a number of our other artists (and their representatives) who told us they’ve never consented to being portrayed in this video. As a result, at least one of them has already sent a takedown notice for this unauthorized use.
A second takedown notice came from will.i.am, of the Black Eyed Peas. The Hollywood Reporter, quoting the musician’s attorney, said his client had never given permission for his appearance in the video, which shows him singing: “When I’ve got to send files across the globe, I use Megaupload.”
Rothken said everybody in the video, which among others includes Ciara, Kim Kardashian and Serena Williams, provided Megaupload with written permission.
“There’s agreements signed by each of the stars,” Rothken said.
Rothken, who is seeking unspecified damages, is demanding a judge order YouTube to restore the video.
Note: The embedded video above was uploaded to YouTube by a user after the takedowns and so far seems to have escaped notice.