Many cities and villages videotape their council/board meetings and then post them on their website or YouTube or other video sharing site so that residents and others can watch the exciting happenings from the comfort of their own computer or device. The City of Inglewood, CA is a community that regularly video records its city council meetings. Those video recordings were recently the subject of a copyright infringement case in federal court after a long-time critic of the City "transformed" the videos and posted them on YouTube.
The City sued Joseph Teixeira after it learned that Mr. Teixeira had copied the city council meeting recordings and then used excerpts from the recordings with his own commentary and posted the modified recordings on YouTube. According to the complaint filed by the City, Mr. Teixeira operates a "watchdog" website where he criticizes the Inglewood Mayor and Council. The City claims that the Cityholds a interest in the video recordings it makes of open public meetings of the Inglewood City Council, and that Teixeira violated the City’s copyright by using portions of these videos in making his own videos that criticize the City and its elected officials.
The court rejected the City's argument, however, based on both state and federal law. First, the court stated that California law contains a presumption that City records are publicly available, especially records that relate to public meetings. Second, the court said that California court cases clearly state that a public entity may not claim copyright protection for a work it has created even if it falls within the scope of federal copyright protection.
The court further held that even if the copyright protections did apply, Teixeira's use of the tapes fell under the fair use doctrine because the modified videos use brief portions of the larger works in order to comment on, and criticize the political activities of the City Council and its members. This use was in furtherance of exercising his First Amendment rights, in doing so, substantially transforms the purpose and content of the city council videos. The court concludes as follows:
He is engaged in core First Amendment speech commenting on political affairs and matters of public concern. To do so, he has taken carefully selected and short portions of significantly longer works, and embellished them with commentary and political criticism through music, his voice, and written subtitles. Even if California law allowed the City to assert a copyright claim, Teixeira’s activities plainly fall within the protections of fair use.Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf