Alleged psychic in midst of battle

8 seconds of video create quite a fire storm

Chicago Sun-Times/July 9, 2007
By Paul Elias

Uri Geller became a 1970s superstar and made millions with an act that included bending spoons, seemingly through the power of his own mind. Now, the online video generation is so bent out of shape over the self-proclaimed psychic's behavior that he's fast reaching the same Internet pariah status as the recording and movie industries.

Geller's tireless attempts to silence his detractors have extended to Google Inc.'s popular video-sharing site YouTube, landing him squarely in the center of a raging digital-age debate over controlling copyrights amid the massive volume of video and music clips flowing freely on the Internet.

At issue is the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which makes it easy for Geller and others to persuade Internet companies to remove videos and music simply by sending a "takedown notice" that claims copyright ownership. Most companies, including YouTube, do almost no investigation of the claims. That's because the DMCA protects companies being sued for copyright infringement if they respond quickly.

''All it takes is a single e-mail to completely censor someone on the Internet,'' said Jason Schultz, a lawyer with the online civil rights group the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The San Francisco-based EFF is suing Geller for pressuring YouTube to remove an unflattering clip over which he claimed copyright ownership through his London-based company Explorologist Ltd.

It turns out that Geller owns just a brief snippet -- perhaps no more than eight seconds of the 13 minutes of video -- which he acknowledges in his court filings arguing that his copyrighted material still has been improperly used.

It's the fifth such federal lawsuit EFF has filed against people it says have sent bogus takedown notices to YouTube and other online video forums. EFF has won its four previous cases.

In March, YouTube took down many of the clips and suspended Sapient's account when Geller sent takedown notices claiming he owned the copyrights to the unflattering clips. That touched off an online tempest that has made Geller the subject of widespread derision and ridicule on several popular blogs like

Sapient says the clips and his views of Geller are protected by the First Amendment and ''fair use'' legal provisions, which allow the use of copyrighted material for certain, noncommercial purposes such as criticism, news reporting and education.

''The fact that the portion of the copyrighted work used constitutes an insubstantial portion of the infringing work does not justify a finding of fair use,'' stated court documents filed last week on Geller's behalf. ''Put in its simplest terms, this case is about theft, not speech.''

Geller, who has become nearly as famous for his litigiousness as for his alleged psychic abilities, knows his way around the court system. He unsuccessfully sued longtime nemesis James ''Amazing'' Randi at least three times for defamation, stemming from Randi's own efforts to unmask Geller as a fraud, and lost several other cases lodged against his critics throughout the years.

Legal scholars and Internet watchdogs say the explosion of freely available online video and music has been accompanied by a surge of abusive copyright claims such as Geller's.

Most recently, EFF successfully sued choreographer Richard Silver to stop sending takedown notices to YouTube claiming videos of people performing the ''Electric Slide'' dance -- sometimes at weddings -- were violating his copyright on the dance.

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