“Psychic” Uri Geller sued after trying to remove critical YouTube clip

We’ve all heard about wacky attempts to misuse the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s “takedown” sections recently. There’s been the Digg.com flap over a certain hex number beginning with “09 F9,” the spat over a parody of the Colbert Report, and even one about a fake ID.

The latest attempt involves Uri Geller, the purported spoon-bending “psychic” who is trying to suppress a video on YouTube that claims Geller is a fraud and demonstrates sleight-of-hand tricks he could have used. The video was posted by the Rational Response Squad, a group of skeptics who take a scientific approach toward evaluating supernatural claims, and rely in part on YouTube to get the word out.

Caption: The offending video

Geller’s U.K. company, Explorologist Ltd., sent a DMCA takedown notice to YouTube, claiming copyright in a video posted by the squad. It depicted magician James Randi, a prominent skeptic of the supernatural, showing how Geller could have performed “magic” tricks. (Some of his critics go farther, alleging that Geller is little more than a successful con artist.)

YouTube replied by suspending the relevant account.

There was one problem: Geller doesn’t seem to own the video. It’s nearly 14 minutes long, and Geller’s company apparently can claim copyright in only three seconds of it, a brief excerpt that would likely be permitted by U.S. fair use laws.

That leads to a second problem. The DMCA requires anyone sending a takedown notice to state “under penalty of perjury, that the complaining party is authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed.”

If it was in fact only a three-second excerpt, Geller is facing potential legal liability. The Electronic Frontier Foundation is taking advantage of this possible vulnerability — and seizing a chance to make it a public lesson — by filing a lawsuit in federal court in northern California on behalf of Brian Sapient. (That’s the nom de plume of the fellow whose YouTube account was suspended.) The lawsuit, filed on Tuesday, asks for an injunction against Geller, damages, and attorneys fees.

The Skeptic’s Dictionary says this of Geller: “He calls himself a psychic and has sued several people for millions of dollars for saying otherwise. His psychic powers were not sufficient to reveal to him, however, that he would lose all the lawsuits against his critics.”

Update on 3:40pm PT Wednesday: It turns out that Geller has filed his own lawsuit. Here’s our followup story.

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May 9, 2007
Declan McCullagh

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This post was last updated: Thursday, May 10, 2007 at 2:09 PM, Central European Time (CET)