The BugPAC campaign to reclaim State College launched in March to endorse candidates for State College Mayor and State College Borough Council leading up to the May 16 municipal primary. A few weeks later, the political action committee published a campaign video on YouTube that explained its formation, objectives, and endorsement decisions.
The video includes footage from State College Borough Council meetings that was filmed and made publicly available by C-Net. C-Net lawyers, however, threatened a lawsuit against BugPAC for allegedly using its copyrighted footage without consent. YouTube, upon learning about the takedown request, decided to step in and defend BugPAC and its use of the content, offering to feature the organization’s video as an example of Protected Fair Use. YouTube also offered $1 million in the case that C-Net decides to continue to pursue BugPAC for copyright infringement.
“We are gratified to see that Youtube and Google recognize and support the students in challenging the illegal practices of C-Net,” said Kevin Horne, now an attorney working in Penn State Student Affairs who is no longer directly involved with BugPAC. “Promoting healthy political debate is essential to the democratic process. C-Net provides a crucial service in recording the happenings of our local government, but it has always been my belief that any attempt to prevent citizens from using C-Net content for political criticism is not only immoral and unethical, but illegal. To see a company like Google support us in this cause is humbling, to say the least.”
The three-minute video uses clips highlighting anti-student sentiment from past Borough Council meetings, which are all recorded and made available online for free by C-Net — Centre County’s not-for-profit government and educational access network.
Less than one week after BugPAC posted the video, the organization was threatened by C-Net’s legal representation, McQuaide Blasko, to remove the video. Blasko wrote to BugPAC leaders that the video violates the Reuse and Retransmission Policy as well as the Copyright Act of 1976.
It’s worth noting C-Net’s Executive Director, Cynthia Hahn, is State College Mayoral candidate Donald Hahn’s wife. BugPAC endorsed Michael Black for mayor.
Needless to say, BugPAC did not remove the video, but rather then-Chairman Horne responded to the letter explaining Fair Use and why the BugPAC video is permitted to use the C-Net Borough Council footage.
Another C-Net attorney submitted a copyright complaint to YouTube a week later, to which YouTube responded, “We are very concerned that your copyright notification may not be valid for some or all of the videos identified in your notification. Please keep in mind that in many countries, it is legal to use copyrighted works in specific ways without the owner’s authorization, particularly for transformative purposes such as news reporting, parody, commentary, or review.”
YouTube reached out to BugPAC around 10 days after that, offering to enter into an agreement with BugPAC to defend the video under Fair Use laws and use it as an example of what Fair Use should truly look like.
“In some very special cases, we’ve asked the video’s creator to join a new effort that protects some of the very best examples of ‘fair use’ on YouTube from copyright takedown requests,” the Google subsidiary says on its website, where the BugPAC campaign video is now included on a playlist illustrating fair use. “Through this initiative, YouTube indemnifies creators whose fair use videos have been subject to takedown notices for up to $1 million of legal costs in the event the takedown results in a lawsuit for copyright infringement. This ensures those creators have a chance to protect their work, and makes the entire creative world better by educating people on both the importance and limits of fair use doctrine.”
C-Net hasn’t reached out to BugPAC or made any public statements on the matter since its original letter and YouTube copyright complaint in May, so it’s unclear whether the organization may seek to take further legal action against BugPAC related to the video.
“We hope C-Net, and the Borough of State College, will recognize the illegality of its policy and change its practices,” Horne said. “For every group, like BugPAC, which challenges C-Net’s bullying tactics and baseless threats of litigation, there are 10 other citizens who likely succumb to its unlawful requests in its attempt to muzzle political discourse. As an attorney, but most of all, as an engaged citizen and proud State College resident of eight years, I am wholeheartedly committed to both freedom of speech and the freedom of political criticism, whether I agree with the message or not. Fair Use copyright laws are crucial to achieve these ideals, but Fair Use is apparently a doctrine that C-Net chooses to ignore.”