James Butts, mayor of Inglewood, California, is accused of trying to use copyright to silence a muckracker who’s been critical of Butts.
The man, Joseph Teixeira, has at least two YouTube channels where he takes existing video of Butts, cracks wise with his own commentary, and remixes them into something between a documentary and political attack ad. He says he’s found evidence of corruption, as shown here.
So Butts slapped Teixeira with a lawsuit, saying the city had a copyright on official city videos, including the one above. The suit goes so far as to claim that Teixeira’s “infringement of the Copyrighted Works will continue to damage the City, causing irreparable harm [to Butts].”
But to anyone familiar with U.S. copyright law, that smells funny. Teixeira’s attorney has filed a motion to dismiss, noting that California state law doesn’t allow city governments to copyright its works—and that even if it did, using a few short clips of the mayor speaking clearly still falls under fair use. Teixeira even said Butts had tried to SLAPP him, claiming that Inglewood’s suit had violated the state’s law against trying to censor someone with what’s called a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP).
Regardless of how the suit goes, it seems Butts is a victim of the Streisand Effect, wherein an attempt to censor something online draws the Internet’s attention, making it far more visible than if that person had just left it alone. Several of Teixeira’s videos, which previously didn’t have many views, are as of this writing marked by YouTube as having 301+ views, meaning YouTube can’t count the views fast enough.
In other words, Butts is going viral.