On August 20, 2015, the Central District of California dismissed without leave to amend a complaint filed by the City of Inglewood asserting a copyright interest in video recordings it makes of the Inglewood city council’s open public meetings.
Defendant Joseph Teixeira posted at least five eleven to fifteen minute videos of the meetings on YouTube, criticizing the City and its elected officials using clips of the video recordings juxtaposed with other material, and incorporating his own commentary. The City filed suit, asserting copyright infringement claims. Mr. Teixeira moved to dismiss the City’s complaint, arguing that under California law, the City may not claim a copyright interest in the city council videos, and even if it could, Mr. Teixeira’s videos are protected by the fair use doctrine. The Court agreed.
First, the Court observed that whether state and local governments can claim copyright protection is governed by state law. Not only does California law establish a strong presumption in favor of public access to public materials, the California Court of Appeal has held that in the absence of “an affirmative grant of authority to obtain and hold copyrights,” a California public entity may not do so. The City could identify no such affirmative grant of authority. The Court rejected the City’s argument that the Supremacy Clause means that the federal basis of copyright law overrides any limits on the ability to obtain copyright protection, stating that “the Supremacy Clause does not forbid a state from choosing whether or not to claim copyright protection.”
Second, the Court held that every statutory factor a court considers under Section 107 of the Copyright Act of 1976 (17 U.S.C. § 107) clearly favored a finding that Mr. Teixeira’s videos were protected by the fair use doctrine. The Court found that Mr. Teixeira’s videos were transformative and directed to matters of public concern, constituting core First Amendment protected speech. The nature of the city council videos is not creative and therefore whatever copyright protection they might enjoy is very narrow. Further, Mr. Teixeira used only a small portion of the city council videos to make his comments and critiques of the city council, so the extent of his copying was reasonable in light of his purposes. Finally, Mr. Teixeira’s use had no effect on the market because there is no market for the city council videos. California law prevents public agencies from charging the public anything more than the “direct costs of duplication” when providing public records. And even if the City could generate revenue from the video, which it cannot, Mr. Teixeira’s short fifteen minute videos are not a substitute for the City’s videos, which are hours long. The court concluded that it could “scarcely conceive of works that are more appropriately protected by the fair use doctrine and § 107 than the Teixeira Videos.”
The case is City of Inglewood v. Teixeira, No. 2:15-cv-01815-MWF-MRW (C.D. Cal. Aug. 20, 2015).