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Inglewood cannot claim copyright over council videos, judge says

Inglewood cannot claim copyright over council videos, judge says
Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts Jr. is pictured in a screenshot from a YouTube video by resident Joseph Teixeira. (YouTube)

A federal judge found Thursday that YouTube videos using snippets of Inglewood City Council meetings do not violate copyright law, and dismissed an unusual lawsuit the city had filed against the resident who created the videos.

In a 21-page decision filed Thursday, federal Judge Michael Fitzgerald rejected Inglewood's argument that six online videos created by Joseph Teixeira violate the copyright of the council meeting. He noted that California law bars cities from claiming ownership of council videos.

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Even if Inglewood could hold a copyright, the judge said, Teixeira's videos constitute fair use, adhering to provisions of the law that allow broad rights to use copyrighted material without permission for purposes such as criticism, news reporting or teaching.

Some legal experts had characterized the lawsuit as a flagrant effort to silence Teixeira, who had used the videos to blast Inglewood and its mayor for policies and actions he disagreed with.

The judge granted Teixeira's motion to dismiss, leaving no possibility for the city to revise and refile the case in district court.

"Any amendment by the city would be futile," the judge said in the decision.

The city could still appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which could take years before a judge hears the case.

Using a MacBook laptop, Teixeira taught himself to upload meeting videos to iMovie. He added text and narration to lambaste Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts Jr. The rookie producer distributed the DVDs at no charge. Later, he posted his work to YouTube.

The legal wrangling over the videos began in November, when Teixeira received a cease-and-desist order from Inglewood attorneys threatening to sue if he kept the videos online.

The 54-year-old self-styled watchdog and Inglewood resident refused to take down the videos, so the city set aside $50,000 for legal fees and in March filed suit, saying Teixeira's videos have caused it "irreparable harm and damages."

The city was seeking unspecified "actual damages stemming from the defendant's unauthorized exploitation of the city's copyrighted videos," and lawyer's fees, according to the nine-page complaint filed by Inglewood's attorney, JoAnna M. Esty, in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

Dan Laidman, Teixeira's lawyer, said he is planning to seek recovery of fees for his services.

The judge struck down the city's request for attorney's fees in the decision.

Eugene Volokh, a law professor at UCLA Law School, followed the case closely and said it's likely the Inglewood will have to pay Teixeira's lawyer. He thought the lawsuit was dubious from the start.

"What's the justification to file a lawsuit that is so clearly a loser with really no benefit... but to protect the reputation of city officials whom the videos are criticizing?"

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In a statement, Butts said: "We accept the ruling and will proceed according to the guidelines of the court."

For more California breaking news, follow @AngelJennings.  She can also be reached at angel.jennings@latimes.com.

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