A fatal high-speed car crash was caught by surveillance cameras on the New Jersey Turnpike. Video from the surveillance cameras made its way to TV news stations and to video sharing websites, including Break.com, LiveLeak, and YouTube. The New Jersey Turnpike Authority filed for copyright on the video footage and sued to have the footage removed from the video sharing sites, under claims of public performance, display, and reproduction, plus inducement to infringe. Ultimately Break.com, LiveLeak, and YouTube settled, agreeing to pull the video. Three questions present themselves:

  1. As a policy matter, should a state government use copyright law to protect the sensibilities of family members in situations like this?
  2. Is the video footage even copyrightable, given that it was created by an automated process with limited (if any) human involvement?
  3. Since the accident occurred on a state-administered road and could be considered newsworthy, does a strong fair use argument apply here?

Perhaps the most interesting takeaway from the settlement of this case is that the NJ Turnpike Authority went after the video sites, even though several TV broadcasters (including CNN) aired the video in spite of the Authority’s objections. The Authority stated that the video is “part of an ongoing investigation” but it is unclear what they hoped to achieve by forcing it off of some (but by no means all) of the video sharing sites on the Web, while simultaneously drawing more attention to the video with the lawsuit. Read the full story atLaw.com. Further background info is availabe at NJ.com.

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