Supreme Court Turns Down "Dancing Baby" Copyright Case

Prince - VH1 Honors 1994 Performance - Getty - H 2017
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It took a while, but the U.S. Supreme Court has finally decided that it won't review Stephanie Lenz v. Universal Music Corp, a case examining the circumstances by which copyright holders can get into trouble when issuing takedown notices.

Lenz is a mother who in 2007 posted a YouTube video of her then toddler dancing to Prince's 1984 hit, "Let's Go Crazy." The video was removed after Universal notified YouTube that it infringed its rights.

Thereafter, Lenz sued with the claim that Universal had made a misrepresentation under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Representing by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Lenz argued that the music giant should have easily come to the conclusion that the use of Prince's music in the video constituted a fair use of copyright.

The case spent many years being litigated and resulted in a significant decision in September 2015 by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The appellate circuit agreed with Lenz that copyright holders must consider fair use before sending takedown notices, but 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 other words, a subjective belief of no fair use was good enough, even if copyright owners need to do more than pay lip service to fair use.

Both sides weren't fully satisfied. Lenz's camp insisted copyright holders should make a more rigorous examination of the objective criteria when dealing with the four factors that govern fair use. 

The high court was intrigued enough by the subject that the justices asked for the opinion from the Solicitor General about whether to review the case. Perhaps due in part to the change in political administration, it took a while for the Trump Administration to respond, but when it did, the Supreme Court was told that even though a "significant legal error" was made, the case shouldn't be granted review.

The case now appears headed back to a district court. If a trial happens, Lenz will need to show that Universal knew it was wrong to cause the takedown of the toddler video.