Through a combination of a hit song by French indie group Phoenix, YouTube, and some messy copyright laws, Australian label Liberation Music have found themselves at the centre of a lawsuit with one of the world’s leading legal professionals.

Liberation, the Mushroom subsidy that represents Phoenix in Australia and New Zealand, recently demanded that YouTube pull a video of a lecture featuring footage of fan-made clips of people dancing to the band’s 2009 single ‘Lisztomania’.

But the lecture, which was posted on the video sharing site in June, just so happened to be from Creative Commons co-founder and Harvard Law School professor Lawrence Lessig, a leading expert on Internet law and an advocate for looser copyright restrictions. The offending video was of Lessig’s 2010 Creative Commons lecture in South Korea, using a collection of amateur clips and videos made by Phoenix fans as a prime example illustrate of how people use the internet to globally interact.

Lessig then posted the lecture on YouTube, noting he was ‘fully aware’ of the Phoenix content before he incurred the legal warning from Liberation Music saying that he was in violation of licensing rights, as reported in The Music Network’s Industrial Strength column.

But now Prof. Lessig is fighting back with his own legal action, teaming up with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and filing a lawsuit in the US court of Massachusetts last week (which can be viewed here for you legal eagles) that accuses Liberation of abusing copyright laws to stifle his right to free speech.

Lessig and the EFF insist the use of Phoenix’s ‘Lizstomania’ in the lecture was a “classic example of fair use”, a copyright loophole that declares that educational, nonprofit and/or satirical use of licensed content is exempt from violations of copyright infringement. Lessig’s claim is urging the judge to protect the video under “fair use”, to rule that it does not violate copyright law, and additionally, for unspecified damages from Liberation for financial losses and legal fees, as The Boston Globe reports.

EFF attorney Daniel Nazer says the lawsuit is not about the technicality of keeping Prof. Lessig’s lecture up on YouTube, but about a broader issue over how copyright law can be used and abused in the digital era. “Excessive copyright enforcement can suppress free speech,” Nazer says. “All the copyright holder has to do is send a quick e-mail [to YouTube], and they can get things taken off the Internet, whether it’s fair use or not.”

YouTube regularly receives a torrent of DMCA takedown notices over alleged copyright violations over the huge amount of content posted to the website. In fact, the Lessig/Liberation case follows closely on the heels of a conglomerate of American music publishers targeting cover songs and fan-made content in a huge lawsuit after failing to directly hold YouTube responsible for its copyright management in previous legal action. However, YouTube users are able to dispute complaints and takedown notices – just as Prof. Lessig has over the Phoenix affair.

“The rise of extremist enforcement tactics makes it increasingly difficult for creators to use the freedoms copyright law gives them,” writes Prof. Lessig in his legal complaint as Billboard points out. “I have the opportunity, with the help of EFF, to challenge this particular attack (from Liberation). I am hopeful the precedent this case will set will help others avoid such a need to fight.”

Tone Deaf reached out to Liberation Music for comment but a spokesperson confirms declined to comment stating they would be making no official statement at this time.

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