The Dancing Baby That Changed Law

You may remember the news back in 2007 about how Universal Music Group freaked out and got YouTube to take down a 29-second long video of a baby dancing.  Why?  A song by Prince was playing in the background.  What is amazing to me is that the audio quality is so horrible that I’m practically unable to recognize the Prince song being played and I am a Prince fan!  This was shot back way in 2007 when YouTube was but an infant itself.

Universal claimed that the video was copyright infringement under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The ironically named Stephanie Lenz (get it?  Lenz? Like a camera lens?), who uploaded the video and is the mother of the baby, sued Universal for wrongly targeting lawful fair use.  This is pretty amazing when you think about it.  How many mom’s and dad’s would have just rolled their eyes and taken the video down?  Nope, not Lenz.  She knew this was stupid and fought for your rights to post your home movies.

The story caught the attention of the media at first, but as it slowly made it’s way though the courts everyone forgot about it. Now we finally have a decision that impacts the video she uploaded and extends way beyond into the thousands of videos upload by parents each year to Youtube, Facebook and Instagram.

On September 14th a three-judge panel in San Francisco’s federal appeals court sided with the dancing baby and ruled unanimously in favor of Lenz, saying that copyright holders must consider whether a use of material is fair before sending a take-down notice.

NPR’s Laura Sydell put it succinctly saying, “Fair Use permits people to use copyrighted material in certain situations like satire or news. Now three judges on the 9th circuit say that unless Universal evaluated whether it was fair use, it may have violated the rights of the video maker. The case is significant because critics say copyright owners like Universal abuse the take down process often at the expense of free expression.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, who represented Lens in the lawsuit, pointed to how this ruling will impact the 2016 presidential election by stating, “The decision made by the appeals court today has ramifications far beyond Ms. Lenz’s rights to share her video with family and friends. We will all watch a lot of online video and analysis of presidential candidates in the months to come, and this ruling will help make sure that information remains uncensored.”

So the next time you take a cute video of your kid dancing to a gratuitously sexual 80’s pop-funk genius – don’t fret.  That video is YOUR video.  This extends beyond kids too… Is the dog doing something stupid?  Quick, get a video! Let’s Go Crazy!