Joseph Teixeira doesn't like Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts, so he makes Youtube videos featuring City Council meeting footage.
The Mayor and Council decided to silence their critic by paying to register the videos of their city meetings with the US Copyright Office, then spending $50,000 in taxpayer money to retain a lawyer to sue Teixeira for copyright infringement.
The court was unimpressed with Inglewood's leaders: it ruled that the council meetings weren't copyrightable; that councils can't make money from public records; and that the videos — in the event that they used anything copyrighted — were fair use. Now they face the possibility that Teixeira will recover fees for his pro bono counsel — more tax dollars flushed away in an illegal bid to prevent a critic from speaking.
Then there's the Streisand Effect: in bringing this action, the City of Inglewood increased traffic to Teixeira's videos by five hundred percent.
And perhaps it won't be Inglewood's taxpayers who wind up footing the bill, and the politicos who green-lit this dip into the city treasury might wind up paying a political cost. Criticism was widespread: the Los Angeles Times spent ink covering the story and its editorial board hinted that Mayor Butts should resign if he suffered from acute thinnius skinnius, and suit was criticized by Eugene Volokh, the Annenberg Media Center, the First Amendment Coalition, TechDirt, CityWatchLA, the National Coalition Against Censorship, and so forth.
I do hope that Teixeira, ably represented by pro bono counsel from Davis Wright Tremaine, Dan Laidman, seeks his legal fees. Inglewood's lawsuit was quite clearly frivolous and designed to harass a critic into silence. In the absence of lawyers willing to take the risk that they might never be paid for their efforts, Inglewood's efforts might have been successful. And although it's unlikely — Mayor Butts won his last election by a wide margin — the elected officials who pursued this action should pay a price as well.
California's City of Inglewood Can't Copyright City Council Meetings, Case Against YouTube Critic Tossed [Adam Steinbaugh/Popehat]