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Fight Over Dancing Baby Video Ends in Settlement

A mother whose YouTube video of her then-18-month-old son dancing to Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” sparked a decade-long copyright battle has settled with the late artist’s record label Universal Music Publishing Group.

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A mother whose YouTube video of her then-18-month-old son dancing to Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” sparked a decade-long copyright battle has settled with the late artist’s record label Universal Music Publishing Group.

The digital civil liberties nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation announced the resolution on Wednesday but did not give specifics, saying the settlement agreement between Stephanie Lenz and Universal is confidential.

“From what I have seen, UMPG's current takedown review process is much better,” Lenz said in a statement. “If UMPG's current processes had been in place 11 years ago when I posted my video of my young son dancing, I probably wouldn’t have had to contact the Electronic Frontier Foundation.”

The case goes back to the winter of 2007, when Stephanie Lenz, of Gallitzin, Pa., filmed a short home movie of her son Holden dancing while the Prince song “Let’s Go Crazy” played in the background.

Holden’s entire “performance” lasted 29 seconds, with “Let’s Go Crazy” heard for about 20 of them, the documents state. Lenz posted the video on YouTube to share it with family and friends, particularly her mother in California.

Nevertheless, Prince allegedly pushed Universal Music, his publishing administrator at the time, to tell YouTube to take down the toddler video, along with 200 others making unauthorized use of his music.

Lenz was put on notice that her use of Prince’s music violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and that if she violated it again, she could lose her YouTube account and any videos she’d uploaded to it.

Following the procedures spelled out in the act, Lenz asked YouTube to repost the video, called “Let’s Go Crazy #1,” and sued Universal Music claiming the entertainment giant misrepresented the basis for its takedown request.

Universal did not conduct a fair-use analysis under the act, Lenz said, which allows use of copyrighted material without permission from the rightsholder in certain circumstances. Lenz said her “use of the Prince song ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ is self-evident noninfringing fair use.”

In a 2015 ruling, a Ninth Circuit panel said Universal must consider fair use when sending takedown notices, raising a triable issue as to whether Universal formed a “subjective good faith belief” that the song’s use was illegal.

At the time, U.S. Circuit Judge Richard Tallman said a jury must "determine whether Universal’s actions were sufficient to form a subjective good faith belief about the video’s fair use or lack thereof.”

But he added, “If, however, a copyright holder forms a subjective good faith belief the allegedly infringing material does not constitute fair use, we are in no position to dispute the copyright holder’s belief even if we would have reached the opposite conclusion.”

In an interview, EFF legal director Corynne McSherry said, “The ultimate Ninth Circuit ruling wasn’t everything we would have hoped for, but on balance I’m happy about what we accomplished in this case. Universal had argued that rightsholders didn’t have to consider fair use at all before sending a takedown notice. And the court pretty firmly has said that’s not the rule.

“The bonus silver lining was that we had an important precedent for fair use. Some folks on the rights holders’ side will say fair use is supposed to be a narrow, limited exception, but the Ninth Circuit said no, fair use is an affirmative right and an essential part of the copyright scheme. That’s an important precedent.”

With Lenz’s now 12-year-old son entering middle school, the Supreme Court passed on reviewing the case. A trial appeared likely until a few weeks ago, when U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White put out a minute order saying a settlement had been reached.

While the parties have been protective of the deal, Universal chief counsel David Kokakis said in a statement that the two sides have worked out a more equitable takedown process.

“UMPG takes great pride in protecting the rights of our songwriters. Inherent in that objective is our desire to take a thoughtful approach to enforcement matters,” he said. “The Lenz case helped us to develop a fair and tempered process for evaluation of potential takedowns.”

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