A few years ago, video-sharing site Vimeo hit the big time with a viral video of its employees lip-syncing along to Harvey Danger’s Flagpole Sitta after work one day. Now Vimeo and parent corp IAC are coming under legal attack for promoting the creation and distribution of these so-called lip dub videos in the form of a suit filed by Capital Records, which is seeking retribution for what it alleges is copyright infringement.
The complaint states that Vimeo “induces and encourages its users to upload…audiovisual works,” which it then disseminates virally throughout the Internet. According to Capitol Records, the company’s staff actively participates in “making, selecting, commenting on, and at times choosing to delete” audiovisual works, including those featuring its own copyrighted recordings.
Earlier this year, Universal Music Group lost a copyright infringement suit against another video-sharing site, Veoh. It claimed that Vimeo Veoh didn’t do enough to protect copyright owners from users uploading their material. Veoh argued that it was protected under the DMCA “safe harbor” provision, which says video sites are not liable for content that users upload, so long as they take that content down after copyright holders alert them to the material.
The difference, according to Capitol, is that not only has Vimeo not tried very hard to protect copyright owners, but it actively encourages infringement. Capitol alleges that Vimeo’s use of copyrighted material is “not an accident,” claiming that the web site contains “a massive amount of content that features, and draws most (if not all) of its appeal from, the use of copyrighted works.” As a result, according to the complaint, Vimeo is not only aware of copyright infringement happening on its system, but “actively promotes and induces that infringement.”
It’ll be interesting to see whether using copyrighted music for lip-synced videos will be considered fair use on video-sharing sites, especially as recording companies increasingly separate their own professionally produced videos on sites like Vevo from user-generated mashups and lip dubs on YouTube.