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Judge rejects Inglewood’s copyright lawsuit

INGLEWOOD — A judge has rejected the city of Inglewood’s attempt to assert federal copyright protection over council meetings partially posted on YouTube by a longtime local gadfly.

U.S. District Judge Michael Fitzgerald ruled Aug. 20 that six online videos created and narrated by Joseph Teixeira did not violate copyright protection since California law bars cities from claiming ownership of public records.

Teixeira, who calls himself Inglewood’s “watchdog,” posts political commentary videos under the moniker Dehol Truth, often accusing Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts Jr. and other city officials of hypocrisy, fraud and poor governance.

“California cities can’t claim a copyright over their public meeting videos because the Legislature has severely limited the ability of local governments and other public entities to copyright the materials they create.” Fitzgerald said in his ruling. “And even if Inglewood could copyright the videos, the critiques made by local resident Joseph Teixeira were a fair use of the material.

The lawsuit was a topic of discussion at the City Council meeting Aug. 25, with several residents speaking directly to Teixeira, who was in attendance. Many asked Teixeira to stop spreading the hate they said he has directed toward the city — and Butts — for five years.

Some said that Teixeira’s goal is to divide Inglewood without even so much as volunteering to help others in the community. Others said they are glad the city sued Teixeira.

Mayor Butts spoke about the judge’s ruling and talked about the city intentions with filing the suit against Teixeira.

“As people know, everyone who comes up here gets a chance to speak and speak freely,” Butts said.  “Oftentimes, we allow people to have extra time to speak. This issue is not about freedom of speech. This issue is about fair use of a video produced at taxpayer’s expense to make a caricature of the residents that come up to speak in public and of the council discussing the city’s progress.

“We didn’t think that was fair. We though it would have been fair to use our videos as they were originally produced, in their entirety because that is our work. That’s what our intellectual property lawyer advised us of.

“We don’t think that was an unreasonable position,” Butts added. “We used the courts legally. The judge ruled against us. We’ll abide by the court’s ruling and now we’ll move on.

“The point is this has nothing to do with free speech. It has everything to do with what we thought was fair use of our materials that we produced at our taxpayer’s expense.”

The city filed suit against Teixeira in March, claiming his disparaging videos would cause irreparable harm and damage, not only to the city but to residents, as well.

The city hired attorney JoAnna Esty based on the recommendation of City Attorney Kenneth R. Campos.

Esty, who has a long history arguing intellectual property court cases, said the city sued Teixeira in good faith and tried to resolve the dispute without filing suit.

“We tried to resolve this issue with Teixeira before bringing the suit,” Esty said. “Our first letter was not picked up by Teixeira. Our second letter was responded to by Teixeira’s attorneys. His attorneys stated the videos would remain. They notified us by letter that the only way to resolve this dispute with Teixeira was to bring a suit through the courts.

“Teixeira and his attorneys were not willing to resolve this amicably,” Esty added.

Teixeira’s pro bono law firm, Davis Wright Tremaine, has represented the Los Angeles Times in a similar case.

Esty said there were two case precedents used to argue Inglewood’s case. The first was a case decided in a Northern California court and the second was a case heard in Florida, both involving copyright disputes between litigants.

“I cited a Northern California’s Second Circuit Court case, but the judge didn’t agree with me,” Esty said.

The city contended that Teixeira didn’t have to copy the council meeting he used in his YouTube posts. He could have simply linked to them, Esty argued in court.

The City Council paid $595 to register some of the videos with the U.S. Copyright Office, along with a $50,000 retainer to hire Esty.

The city’s complaint sought actual damages and attorneys’ fees, as well as injunctive relief.