The Australian Federal Court has awarded damages of $147,000 to the recipient of an unjustified takedown request, in what legal experts are hailing as the first ruling of its kind.
The decision sets an important precedent. As far as we are aware, this is the first time damages have been awarded where a third party had content removed from the Internet without legal justification. In light of this decision, if a person falsely tells a file-sharing or social media website that they own copyright in an image or movie to have it taken down, and in fact that is not the case, it could be actionable as an unjustifiable threat.
— Mallesons Stephen Jaques law firm, commenting on Bell v Steele (No 3).
The case concerned Richard Bell, a well-known indigenous Australian artist, and Tanya Steele, whom he hired to assist him in the making of a film entitled “The Blackfella’s Guide to New York”. When Bell released a trailer for the film on Vimeo, Steele claimed that she owned the copyright in the footage and told Bell to remove the trailer. She also lodged a takedown request with Vimeo, who removed the trailer from the site.
However, Bell took the matter to the Federal Court, which declared him the owner of the copyright in the footage and ordered Steele to pay damages in compensation for lost sales and financial losses caused by damage to Bell’s artistic credibility.
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