Behind the Anshe Chung DMCA complaint

After a digital attack on the "Second Life" land baroness, her husband, Guntram Graef, filed, then withdrew, the complaint. He explains why.

In December, Second Life land baroness Anshe Chung, the avatar of a Chinese businesswoman named Ailin Graef, gave an interview to CNET News.com inside the virtual world.

As has been widely reported, that interview, which took place in front of a packed house in CNET Networks' Second Life theater, was sabotaged by a group of "griefers" who attacked Anshe Chung with a 15-minute digital barrage of flying penises and doctored pornographic images.

Shortly afterward, a video of the entire attack, set to a pop music soundtrack, appeared on video-sharing site YouTube, and subsequent articles in The Sydney Morning Herald and on the tech culture blog Boing Boing contained screenshots culled from the video.

Outraged by the video and the collection of images used in the news reports--which spread quickly across the Internet--Ailin Graef's husband and business partner, Guntram Graef, fired off a Digital Millennium Copyright Act complaint to YouTube, which pulled the video, citing a "copyright infringement" violation.

In the DMCA complaint, the Graefs argued that because Second Life users own the content they create, the video and the photographs used Anshe Chung's image without permission.

But while YouTube acted quickly, legal experts argued that use of the images in the media was protected by fair use doctrine, and that attempts to make the video and photos go away were tantamount to a chill on media freedoms. The DMCA, signed into law in 1998, is intended to extend copyright protection to material published on the Internet.

Late last week, YouTube recast its rationale for deleting the offending video, ," even as the service, as well as Google Video. YouTube did not elaborate.

Now, for the first time, Guntram Graef has talked about why he filed the DMCA complaint in the first place and why he eventually repudiated that claim.

In an exclusive interview held in Anshe Chung Studios' new Second Life furniture emporium, Graef explained his reasoning behind those issues and more.

Q: How would you like to start?
Guntram Graef: I think there have been a lot of misperceptions and misunderstandings.

How so?
Graef: First of all I would like to make it clear that I regret filing DMCA claims in this case, because the real issue at hand wasn't at all about copyright. I didn't realize that some people would misunderstand this as a censorship attempt, which it definitely was not. What got lost in the whole coverage of the issue was that initially I had contacted all parties involved and tried to engage them in a dialogue about the inappropriateness of the graphical material they distributed.

The video and pictures are clearly defaming and constitute a sexual assault. What has never been a question was the free flow of information. I think everybody at Anshe Chung Studios believes in how important it is that the press can report on events and facts without censorship. This does not mean that it is appropriate to distribute pornographic material that people created to harm a woman.

If the effort it takes to file repeated claims is greater than the effort to create an account and repost a video, then certainly something is flawed.

How are they defaming? Isn't it just parody? Bad taste, but parody nonetheless?
Graef: I think what many people in the U.S. and Australia have not been aware of is that Ailin is Chinese, and showing photos of her that have been manipulated into hugging huge penises and stuff like that is quite devastating in this culture. But even according to American standards, I think imagery that shows penises forced onto a woman is a gross sexual assault and by far not a parody.

I can appreciate that, but because Anshe Chung is a public figure, the fact that the event happened made it a news event. And the images--at least on Boing Boing and The Sydney Morning Herald--were depictions of a news event.
Graef: I agree. This is why we never tried to hinder news outlets reporting on the event. However, this does not mean that you have to distribute the pornographic images produced by the attackers. Boing Boing and The Sydney Morning Herald used material that the attackers created themselves. The whole event only had the purpose to produce graphical material and distribute it on the Internet to harm Ailin.

(I feel) some media outlets allowed themselves to be (used) for that. But even if you assume that they did not break any laws in Australia, the U.S., Germany or China, it is still very unnecessary and tasteless and discredits the Western media and the whole concept of freedom of speech in many parts of the world.

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