Last month, another opinion was published in the latest chapter of a highly publicized legal battle. In 2007, Plaintiff Stephanie Lenz (“Lenz”) uploaded a video of her young children dancing to a Prince song entitled “Let’s Go Crazy.” At the time, Universal Music Group (“Universal”) was responsible for administering the copyrights for Prince’s music, and a Universal employee tasked with locating infringing content on YouTube found the video and included it on a removal list sent to YouTube for takedown (“Takedown Notice”).

Lenz asserted that the video was fair use and filed action under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”) safe harbor provision in 2007 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Lenz claimed that Universal’s Takedown Notice to YouTube was a “notification of claimed infringement” under the DMCA, and that under 17 U.S.C. § 512(f), Universal made a knowing, material misrepresentation by asserting that her video infringed upon Prince’s copyrights.

In a prior opinion and order in this case, the District Court held that copyright holders must consider fair use before issuing takedown notices pursuant to the DMCA. Last month, the Court denied summary judgment on the misrepresentation issue. After deciding that Universal’s Takedown Notice did in fact constitute a “notification of claimed infringement,” the Court held that Universal failed to consider the fair use doctrine in its takedown procedures, but that neither party was entitled to summary judgment on the question of whether this failure was sufficient to establish Universal’s liability under § 512(f).

The Court then revisited the damages issue. In holding that Lenz was not entitled to damages for chilling of her freedom of speech, the Court declined to extend to private actors in the DMCA context the reach of prior cases that granted nominal damages to plaintiffs for government infringement of free speech rights. The Court ultimately denied summary judgment, however, and held that Universal did not establish that Lenz was precluded from recovering any damages, even if they were not economically substantial.


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