h3h3Productions‘ Hila and Ethan Klein have won a crucial lawsuit for the future of fair use on YouTube, helping to set a precedent for how litigation surrounding copyright claims made on the video-sharing site should proceed from here on out.
Last year, the couple behind the h3h3Productions YouTube channel were sued for a reaction video they had posted, which saw them poking fun at a video created by Matt Hosseinzadeh of the channel Matt Hoss Zone. The video, titled ‘The Big, the BOLD, the Beautiful,’ saw Ethan and Hila mocking an instructional video Hoss had posted to help his viewers attract women, with Hoss responding by hitting their channel with a copyright claim and taking them to court.
Hoss’ lawyer Tim Bukher argued that h3h3productions had used 70% of the plaintiff’s original content in their video, “while contributing nothing substantive” of their own. Hoss offered Ethan and Hila the opportunity to settle out of court for a sum of $3,750 or post an apology video in which they promoted his channel, but the Kleins refused to do so as a result of the problems this could present for YouTube further down the road. They instead pursued a lengthy and expensive 17 month month legal battle, which has culminated in them winning the lawsuit.
Though the Kleins’ videos are covered under the fair use doctrine, this is only a legal guideline that still has gray areas, meaning that Ethan and Hila were still reliant upon a jury siding with their argument over Hoss’ in order to succeed. Fortunately for them, the jury voted in their favor, releasing documents revealing the result of the lengthy legal battle and the reasoning behind the court’s decision.
The portion of the documents outlining the court’s ruling reads:
“The key evidence in the record consists of the Klein and Hoss videos themselves. Any review of the Klein video leaves no doubt that it constitutes critical commentary of the Hoss video; there is also no doubt that the Klein video is decidedly not a market substitute for the Hoss video. For these and the other reasons set forth below, defendants’ use of clips from the Hoss video constitutes fair use as a matter of law. Further, it is clear that the defendants’ comments regarding the lawsuit are either non-actionable opinions or substantially true as a matter of law. For these and the other reasons set forth below, plaintiff’s defamation claim fails. Defendants’ motion for summary judgement is therefore GRANTED, and plaintiff’s motion is DENIED.”
The ruling then went on to further elaborate upon the legality of reaction videos in general, saying that “some reaction videos, like the Klein video, intersperse short segments of another’s work with criticism and commentary, while others are more akin to a group viewing session without commentary.” After making this distinction, the ruling continues: “Accordingly, the Court is not ruling here that all “reaction videos” constitute fair use.”
This distinction is important, as it clearly separates reaction videos as posted by the Kleins from reaction videos that more prominently feature the copyrighted material. For instance, if a reaction video contained an individual providing commentary over a film, then this would be perceived as a breach of copyright given that it contained the entire film. However, videos such as those posted on the h3h3Productions YouTube channel are covered by fair use, and having the differences between the two explained by a court will be a major relief to the many YouTube channels who house such content.
False copyright claims currently plague YouTube, with videos being pulled from companies and individuals despite being covered by fair use. With there being little in the way of punishment for those who file false copyright claims, many opt to pull completely legal videos from the site simply because they disagree with their content. While this legal battle is unlikely to prevent this from happening, it at least gives YouTubers a legal advantage should a similar situation arise in the future.
Watch h3h3Productions’ video detailing their lawsuit victory below: