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Judge Tosses Universal’s Defenses in YouTube Case

(CN) - Universal Music failed to convince a federal judge in San Jose that a Pennsylvania homemaker knew she was infringing its copyrights when she posted a YouTube video of her toddler son dancing to Prince's "Let's Go Crazy."

Stephanie Lenz said Universal forced YouTube to remove her video, and then YouTube sent her a "takedown notice" saying subsequent copyright infringement activity would lead to the deletion of her account.

She sued the record label under a provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act which states that a copyright holder "who knowingly materially misrepresents" that someone misused its material "shall be liable for any damages ... incurred by the alleged infringer."

U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel denied Universal's motion to dismiss the complaint in an August 2008 ruling that some hailed as a victory for fair-use rights.

Universal countered that Lenz knew the video was a copyright violation and challenged her claim that she'd posted it for private viewing by family and friends. It pointed to the increase in viewings, which jumped from 273 before she filed suit to 841,000. The 29-second video now has nearly 1 million views.

Judge Fogel said the large jump in viewings doesn't prove that Lenz misled the court. He also rejected Universal's claim that Lenz acted in bad faith by asserting that she'd suffered damages from the "curtailment of her First Amendment rights," because she had to retain a lawyer to fight the takedown notice.

Universal cited an email exchange between Lenz and a friend, in which Lenz allegedly responded to the comment that her friend "love[s] how [Lenz] has been injured" by writing, "I have ;-)."

Universal said Lenz's "winky" emoticon signifies something along the lines of "just kidding."

The record company said permitting Lenz to recover damages for the suit "would allow plaintiffs to satisfy the damages element of their claims merely by hiring an attorney and filing suit, thereby incurring 'costs and fees.'"

Fogel said Universal's point was "well taken," but he was not persuaded by its argument that Lenz did not suffer any damages. The judge said Lenz is not required to prove actual expenses or economic losses.

He granted Lenz's motion for partial summary judgment on each of six challenged defenses advanced by Universal, including bad faith and unclean hands.

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