A California city’s attempt to silence a persistent critic by means of a copyright claim was thwarted in court, thanks to pro bono work from a DWT team.

The action arose from videos posted to YouTube by Joseph Teixeira, a resident of Inglewood, a city of about 112,000 people located near Los Angeles International Airport. The videos feature short clips from the official recordings of Inglewood City Council meetings, heavily modified with critical comments from Mr. Teixeira about Inglewood mayor James T. Butts Jr.

One video, for example, juxtaposes original footage documenting traffic problems near a well-known Inglewood event venue with short clips of Mayor Butts positively characterizing the traffic situation in remarks at a council meeting. Mr. Teixeira also criticizes the mayor’s remarks directly with on-screen text superimposed over the meeting footage and with narration accusing the mayor of lying.

The city filed suit against Mr. Teixeira in March 2015, claiming that his use of footage from the city’s public meeting videos constituted copyright infringement. The city’s complaint sought actual damages and attorneys’ fees, as well as injunctive relief. The defense of Mr. Teixeira came to DWT through Californians Aware, an advocacy organization focused on open government and public forum law.

In a comprehensive opinion granting 
Mr. Teixeira’s motion to dismiss, U.S. District Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald agreed with our client that the city is precluded by California law from asserting copyright protection in public records of its council meetings. Even if it could assert such a claim, said the judge, the videos are protected by the fair-use doctrine. Indeed, the judge wrote, the videos targeted by the city’s complaint “are quintessential transformative works for the purpose of criticism and commentary on matters of public concern.”

Finding that any amendment of the claim would be futile, the court dismissed the city’s complaint without leave to amend. Mr. Teixeira was represented by L.A. associates Dan Laidman and Diana Palacios, along with San Francisco partner Thomas R. Burke.