"Romney Girl" video censored from Internet
A popular video parodying presidential candidate Mitt Romney has been removed from YouTube and the Internet over alleged “copyright violation” but more likely in a case of censorship. The video “Romney Girl” was created by a group called the Agenda Action Project and uses a parody of Aqua's 1998 song “Barbie Girl.” Universal Music Group claimed the video violated their copyright on the song. The video even raised eyebrows in Switzerland. The Swiss government complained that it portrayed their country's banks as havens for tax-dodgers and ill-gotten gains.
US copyright law allows for “fair use” of otherwise protected works. One such fair use is satire or parody. Another is political commentary. Whether the work is for commercial purposes is also a factor, as is will the alleged infringement harm sales of the original work. “Romney Girl” was not for profit or gain and satisfies all of the above requirements. There is also a question of Free Speech as guaranteed by the US Constitution. Yet YouTube removed the video from their servers saying that “Universal is a big company....and in this day and age big companies get what they want.”
Universal, which is owned by Vivendi Media based in France, seems to just keep getting bigger. Recently they purchased UK based EMI music, which reduces the number of megacorporations who control most of the music and media in the world from five to four. It swallowed up another competitor, BMG music, in 2007.
Universal has a history of playing fast and loose with the legal system. In 2007, Elliot Spitzer, then Attorney General of New York State, prosecuted Universal in a payola scandal involving bribes to radio stations to play the company's material. Universal was fined a record $12 million, a mere “speeding ticket” for a company its size. Universal is also known for its “weaponizing” of the entire copyright system. They were one of the main players in trying to get newly-invented VCR's banned back in the 1970's. It took the Supreme Court to allow you to record your TV shows to watch later!
It was the Clinton-era Digital Millennium Copyright Act that gave Universal and other media conglomerates the largest bludgeon to swing however. This law allows a copyright holder to demand removal of a piece from a web host simply on suspicion of infringement. It has demanded the removal of negative blog articles and online reviews of its artists. In 2007 it sued a Pennsylvania woman who posted a video of her baby son dancing to a Prince song that was playing on the radio.
This isn't the first time the “Barbie Girl” video has sparked controversy. Universal was sued by Mattel in 1998 claiming trademark infringement on their product, the Barbie line of dolls. Mattel claimed the video turned Barbie into a sex object and harmed their sales. In 2002 a Court of Appeals judge ruled that the song was a parody and qualified as “normative use” under the law, and also qualified as Free Speech under the Constitution. The parties were “advised to chill” by the judge. Mattel later realized that the song actually garnered much attention to its product line as well as the band. A new version of the song with modified lyrics was used as part of an advertising campaign. This campaign proved profitable for both Mattel, Aqua and Universal who Aqua was signed with.
Everyone benefited from this judicial precedent, so why can't they just “chill?” There have been other parodies of “Barbie Girl” including a “gay” version in which Barbie is insulted by men who pine for Ken. These parodies were not removed and their producers were not sued. Could the motives be political? NBC, owned by General Electric, is a large stakeholder in Universal. As one of the world's largest manufacturers of weapons, GE would benefit greatly from the increased military spending a Romney Presidency would promise. Romney also supports SOPA and the work-in-progress Trans Pacific Partnership, which would give multinational corporations even more power to have content removed from the Internet. In 1980 the world's news and entertainment media were spread out over 50 diverse companies. In 2012, with Universal's acquisition of EMI, it is down to four. Those four it seem, have more power than our democratically-elected institutions. Perhaps we should remember these words spoken in 1939 by President Franklin D Roosevelt:
"The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism - ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private
Here is a link to the video hosted by the Buenos Aires Hearld in Brazil. Let us hope the Brazilian media is more respectful of free speech than those in the US and the rest of the world, and that this site remains up.