Defending free speech often requires one to defend words you don’t necessarily agree with; but then there are those times when the attitudes of free speech opponents are so out of bounds that it makes the free speech case an easy one. Observe the actions of Inglewood, California Mayor James Butts, who is attempting to use a copyright injunction to silence a critic.
Joseph Teixeira is highly critical of Butts — and highly vocal about it. He runs a website called Anyone but Butts for Anything, and under the username “Dehol Trouth” he posts YouTube videos with audio commentary over mashup clips of city council meetings. Some of the videos focus on what he sees as Butts’ hypocrisy; others, like the one below, argue that he abused a murder investigation for political gain.
Instead of just ignoring these videos (the most popular one not surpassing 1,000 views), Butts decided to file a copyright infringement suit.
Adam Steinbaugh reported on the complaint submitted by the city, which argues that Inglewood owns the copyright to City Hall videos and that Teixeira had simply posted the footage in its entirety, only adding a voice over.
Teixeira’s lawyers fired back with a request for dismissal, explaining that not only was it not possible for the state of California to own the copyright, but even if they did, Teixeira was protected under the terms of fair use because they are transformative.
The response from the city of Inglewood was baffling. They claimed that Teixeira’s works are not transformative, despite the fact that commentary is defined as a transformative use under the Copyright Act. By Inglewood’s standards, programs like The Daily Show are direct copies of public record footage, not transformative works. They also said Teixeira’s use of the “copyrighted” material was removing the economic incentive for the city to record its council meetings. And the kicker? The city is already legally required to give copies of their council meetings for the cost of production to anyone who asks. Not only that, but these meetings are freely available on YouTube.
Copyright claims being used as tools of censorship is not a new phenomenon; as of right now, all of Teixeira's videos have been marked "Private" until the dispute is settled. As a Los Angeles Times editorial wisely noted:
the lawsuit — which has cost city taxpayers at least $50,000 so far — may do more to hurt Butts' reputation than Teixeira's YouTube creations do. In court papers, the city insists that this case is about copyrights, not 1st Amendment rights. But the city is unmistakably targeting Teixeira for his political speech.