Copyright and the Campaign

Copyright didn’t play a large part in the recent Canadian election (despite Michael Geist’s admirable efforts), and it hasn’t played much of a role south of the border either. However, it did make a brief appearance last week.

It turns out some of John McCain’s campaign videos, which had been uploaded to this year’s hottest campaigning tool, Youtube, contained copyrighted material (in particular, the infamous clip of Barack Obama describing – fill in the blank – as “lipstick on a pig”). In accordance with their obligations under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, Youtube removed the ads after when the copyright holder complained – leaving the onus on the McCain campaign to bring a counter-notification.

The McCain campaign wrote to Youtube (in a letter described by Lawrence Lessig as “fantastic”) suggesting that all take-down requests against a video uploaded by a political campaign be reviewed before the takedown is effected. The letter was met with a pointed response about the position the DMCA puts Youtube in, and the relative importance of a variety of forms of political speech.

The immediate reaction of asking for special treatment of political campaigns is a common one (think of our own Do Not Call List, which doesn’t apply to political parties), but one can hope the discussion goes a little farther than that when the campaign is over, no matter who wins.

Lessig also has an excellent Op-Ed piece in the New York Times today on copyright and the election.


  1. Another great post Evan. I’m really glad to see you back!

  2. Great post, Evan. And a very interesting, highly topical issue.

    YouTube’s response to the McCain campaign’s letter (also well worth reading, IMO) is here.