Lenz v. Universal Music Corp.

Lenz v. Universal Music Corp.

Lexis Cite: 2010 Lexis 16899


Facts: In 2007, Lenz posted a video to YouTube of her son dancing to a Prince song and the video had more than 840,000 hits. Universal sent a DMCA takedown notice to YouTube because Universal owned the copyright to Prince’s song. Lenz’s video was restored on YouTube after she sent a notice claiming the video was protected under fair use. The case centers on what damages can Lenz seek for a wrongful DMCA takedown notice.

Procedural History: Lenz filled suit against Universal alleging misrepresentation pursuant to 17 U.S.C. §512(f) and tortuous interference with her contract with YouTube. Lenz also filed for a judicial declaration that she did not infringe Universal’s copyrights. The Court granted dismissal but Lenz was given leave to amend her complaint to replead her first and second claims for relief. Lenz filled an operative second amended complaint alleging only a claim for misrepresentation pursuant to 17 U.S.C. §512(f). The Court denied Universal’s motion to dismiss.

Holding: A plaintiff suing over a wrongful Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown notice can only recover for damages that were proximately caused by the notice.

Future Importance: This case seems to limit damages a plaintiff can recover for a wrongful takedown. It seems that almost no wrongful YouTube takedown could recover money because it would be difficult to show a substantive bad faith intent and proximate cause analysis. This decision seems to make sense because many videos are taken down everyday for copyright violation and we don’t want our courts slammed with cases concerning a takedown of a Youtube video.

Critical Analysis: Lenz argued that she should be eligible for “any damages” incurred because of the takedown of her video. She cited Congressional intent to deter knowingly false allegations to service providers because such misrepresentations are detrimental to rights of Internet users. Universal argued that Lenz interpretation of §512(f) is misleading and requires a proximate cause analysis to be made before damages can be awarded. Additionally, Universal argued that the damages must be more than marginal economic damages. The Court concluded that a plain language reading of the statute supported certain aspects of both parties’ arguments. The Court believed that a §512(f) plaintiff must demonstrate that the copyright owner acted with a subjective bad faith and prove that her damages were proximately caused by the takedown creating a claim for awarding damages to be a deterrent factor. The Court determined that attorney fees are collectable but explicitly forbid the attorney fees if the work was done on a pro bono basis.

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