Psychic fighting YouTube clips sued by SF group

San Francisco Chronicle/May 10, 2007
By Jim Herron Zamora

The San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation this week jumped into a legal battle involving efforts by self-described psychic Uri Geller -- who is famous for claiming to bend spoons by mental forces — to censor video clips of him posted on YouTube.

The foundation, which bills itself as the first line of defense in digital free speech issues, sued Geller’s company in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, claiming that the psychic used “baseless copyright claims” to silence critics.

The foundation filed suit Tuesday, just one day Geller and his company, Explorogist Ltd., sued a critic of the psychic who had posted a 13-minute video on YouTube. Geller’s suit, filed in federal court in Philadelphia, claims that the video posted by Brian Sapient had a three-second excerpt of copyrighted material. YouTube took down the video after complaints by Geller.

But the foundation said that the excerpt of only three to 10 seconds should legally be considered fair use.

The suit accuses Geller of misusing the Digital Millennium Copyright Act by misrepresenting a copyright claim in order to prod YouTube to remove the video and suspend Sapient’s ability to upload more critical videos.

“Uri Geller may not like it when people question his paranormal abilities. However, he is not allowed to stifle public criticism by misusing the law,” said foundation attorney Marcia Hoffman. “If the publication of a video does not infringe his copyright, then he cannot block its use — it’s as simple as that.”

Sapient belongs to a group called the Rational Response Squad, which is dedicated to debunking what it calls irrational beliefs, such as psychics. Sapient had lifted the material from a 1993 Public Television Service NOVA program called “Secrets of the Psychics” that challenged Geller’s techniques. The host of the NOVA program, magician James Randi, asserted that Geller’s feats were clever but simple magic tricks.

Randi is not involved in the current litigation but he was sued years ago by Geller, according to the psychic’s Web site. Randi’s show used several seconds of video from 1987 performance by Geller that Geller’s lawyers insist is protected by copyright.

“The bottom line is Sapient did not ask for permission to use the copyrighted video — he does not own the portion of the video,” said Geller’s attorney, Richard Winelander of Baltimore. “It is important to note this was not the first YouTube complaint against Sapient.”

Geller, 60, was born in Israel and now lives in Sonning-on-Thames in Great Britain.

“The video in question has been out there for years,” Geller said in a statement. “The concern of the company is the use of intellectual property without permission and nothing else — any other allegations are ludicrous. I am amazed by Sapient’s lack of regard for property rights of others.”

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.