Obama campaign gets boost from unfair DMCA claim

Is BMG using copyright to support the president?


Kevin Collier


Published Jul 17, 2012   Updated Jun 2, 2021, 2:23 pm CDT

President Obama’s campaign has received a boost from an unexpected ally: the copyright enforcement procedure known as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), by which copyright holders can quickly squelch Internet users who use their material.

The copyrighted content? Obama singing the beginning of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” at a January fundraiser, which opponent Mitt Romney used against Obama in a political attack ad. That song is the property of BMG, the fourth-biggest music publisher in the world.

In Romney’s ad, Obama appears to be singing his love song to his campaign donors. It’s actually a reaction to an Obama ad that features Romney flatly singing “America the Beautiful” over images of shuttered workplaces.

Obama’s ad is still up, but that’s probably because “America the Beautiful” has long passed into the public domain—it was published in 1892.

The DMCA is meant to be a system of checks and balances. Ideally, copyright holders who see that someone has uploaded their material to an unauthorized site will send that site a notice, and that site will quickly comply. Uploaders are given the chance to appeal, but that takes time—and time is money, both in politics and online.

There’s a long history of the DMCA enabling unfair scenarios—see the news post about the Stop Online Piracy Act that was blocked from Google searches, the YouTubers who abused the system to defame each other, or the naturalist who had his videos taken down because a music label thought the birdsong in the background might have been one of their songs.

Still, this latest takedown seems fishy. BMG took down the Romney ad the same day it was posted. It has yet to take down a number of other copies of the exact same clip of Obama singing, many of which have been up since January.

The Daily Dot reached out to YouTube and BMG for an explanation for the discrepancy, but didn’t receive immediate response.

Photo via YouTube

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*First Published: Jul 17, 2012, 10:35 am CDT