Critic of Inglewood mayor defeats censorship-by-copyright

A few weeks ago we wrote about the thin-skinned mayor of Inglewood who, stung by criticism from a local citizen, went to court to silence him. Oblivious to first amendment protections for free speech, the mayor and his lawyers claimed the critic’s use of clips from videos of city council meetings infringed Inglewood’s copyright.

Now a federal judge, having considered those claims, has given them, and the mayor, the back of the hand. Although cities and states are eligible in theory for federal copyrights, California’s enactment of the PRA creates a presumption in favor of unrestricted access to government records—a presumption that can only be overcome by a state statute that expressly authorizes an exemption to the PRA and the assertion of copyright ownership for specific records. In so holding, the court relied on a pro-access appellate decision in a case brought by FAC: Santa Clara County v. California First Amendment Coalition.

The court also found that, even if the video excerpts of city council meetings were copyrighted, their use by a local gadfly to create videos critical of the mayor was permissible under the copyright’s “fair use” exception. The fair use exception is, in effect, a codification of free speech rights in the copyright law.

Kudos to lawyers Thomas R. Burke, Dan Laidman, and Diana Palacios of Davis Wright Tremaine for their representation of Inglewood’s gadfly, Mark Teixeira. Although they presumably undertook this case on a pro bono basis, here’s hoping they will get paid through an award of attorney’s fees. Making Inglewood pay for its mayor’s brazen censorship of a citizen’s political criticism is an outcome that is not only just, but would have a much-needed deterrent effect. –Peter Scheer