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“Killing America” Documentary Pulled from Platforms Amid Allegedly Censorship-Driven Copyright Claims

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A documentary film titled “Killing America,” which delves into contentious issues in the Bay Area including ethnic studies, honors classes, and anti-Semitism, particularly in the Sequoia Union High School District and Menlo-Atherton High (M-A), has been removed from YouTube and Vimeo. This action followed a legal challenge from the M-A Chronicle, the student newspaper at Menlo-Atherton High School.

The M-A Chronicle, asserting its rights over its own multimedia content filed a claim. In a statement, the M-A Chronicle Editorial Board claimed that Steele’s documentary “Killing America” incorporated some of their video footage and photographs of school board meetings, as well as their short-form videos. This statement, posted on the newspaper’s social media, led to the removal of Steele’s roughly 40-minute documentary from the major video-sharing platforms, as confirmed by Steele’s own social media posts.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is a United States law that provides a framework for copyright protection in the digital age. However, it has been increasingly used as a tool for censorship, raising significant concerns. The primary issue is that the DMCA allows copyright holders to issue takedown notices to platforms hosting content they claim infringes their copyrights.

Related: How the DMCA has become one of the biggest threats to online speech

While this mechanism is essential for protecting intellectual property, it can be, and often is, misused to suppress legitimate free speech or to target content that is merely inconvenient or unflattering, rather than actually infringing. This misuse can happen due to the broad and sometimes subjective interpretation of what constitutes copyright infringement.

Responding to the removal, Steele expressed his dismay and labeled the incident as “weaponized censorship.” He revealed his intent to pursue legal action in response.

Steele argued that the inclusion of a “two-second clip” from an M-A Chronicle video was justified under the Fair Use doctrine.

The Fair Use doctrine is a legal principle in US copyright law that permits limited use of copyrighted material without requiring permission from the rights holders, particularly for purposes such as criticism, commentary, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research.

“Let’s be clear, TheMAChronicle claims that this is a copyright issue, but it is not. Our work is fully protected by the Fair Use doctrine, which allows us to use even copyrighted footage under certain guidelines,” Steele wrote.

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