Animal Rights Activists Win Rodeo Fight

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Animal Rights Activists Win Rodeo Fight

Animal welfare advocates and the world's largest rodeo-sanctioning organization have settled their copyright battle over YouTube videos, protecting the advocates' right to publicize their critiques of animal treatment at rodeos and creating a new model for handling takedown notices.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) represents the group Showing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK), a non-profit organization that videotapes and photographs rodeos in order to expose animal abuse, injuries, and deaths. SHARK posted dozens of these critical videos to YouTube throughout 2006 and 2007. When the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) falsely claimed that 13 of the videos infringed PRCA copyrights, YouTube disabled SHARK's entire account. SHARK sued the PRCA for misrepresentation, noting that, among other things, the videos could not have infringed any PRCA copyright because the rodeos themselves weren't copyrightable.

In a settlement announced today, the PRCA will pay $25,000 for the improper removals. PRCA has also agreed that any future copyright claims will be first sent to SHARK's video contact and then reviewed by the PRCA's general counsel for legal merit before any legal notices are sent to YouTube or another video service. In addition, the PRCA has agreed not to enforce a "no videotaping" provision in its ticket "contracts" against SHARK unless it enforces the same provision against others, meaning the PRCA will no longer be able to selectively enforce the provision against its critics.

"We're very pleased with this settlement," said SHARK Senior Investigator Michael Kobliska. "We have a First Amendment right to question how animals are treated at rodeos and to publicize the inhumane treatment we witness. This agreement lets SHARK continue its work without unfair interference."

This settlement is part of EFF's No Downtime for Free Speech Campaign, which works to protect online expression in the face of baseless copyright claims. EFF has seen people and organizations increasingly misusing the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and other intellectual property laws to demand that material be immediately taken down even when the material clearly does not infringe any legal rights. Service providers often comply with these requests without double-checking them, depriving groups like SHARK of a crucial mechanism for spreading their message.

"As demonstrated in our recent Presidential campaign, YouTube and other content-sharing sites have become an integral part of American discourse," said EFF Senior Intellectual Property Attorney Michael Kwun. "When critical videos are unfairly removed from the public eye, free speech and debate suffers."

Co-counsel Charles Lee Mudd Jr. of Mudd Law Offices in Chicago provided substantial assistance with the case.

View the full settlement agreement.

Find more on the No Downtime for Free Speech Campaign.

For more information about SHARK, visit their site.

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