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Vimeo takedown leads to court loss

First damages award for unauthorised removal of content

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An Australian artist, Richard Bell, has won a case against a film-maker who asked Vimeo to remove a film about him. His lawyers say it is “the first time damages have been awarded where a third party had content removed from the Internet without legal justification.”

Bell’s law firm King & Wood Mallesons state that Bell “... engaged Tanya Steele to assist him” to make the film. Steele later insisted she held copyright of the film, titled “The Blackfella’s Guide to New York”*. When Bell disputed that claim, Steele removed the film from Vimeo.

The video was a marketing tool for Bell, who has in the past made films to promote his work. In court, he made the case that not being able to show the video made it harder to market his works which resulted in lower sales. As an artist Bell is also hyper-sensitive to any intellectual property dispute, meaning the dispute had the potential to harm his reputation.

The film was also intended as a personal memoir to be shown to Bell’s friends and artist peers, who he felt were denied the chance to understand what he’d done during nine months in New York.

Bell retained a copy of the film throughout the case, but decided not to post it to another video site lest Steele again request its removal.

John Swinson of King & Wood Mallesons said “This is the first time damages have been awarded where a third party had content removed from the Internet without legal justification. Even though the Vimeo file was hosted outside of Australia, its improper removal caused Mr Bell significant damage in Australia. The court compensated Mr Bell for this loss,” to the tune of $AUD147,000.

Bell and his legal team will now attempt to have the judgment enforced in US courts. ®

*Australian Aboriginals use the term “blackfella” as a self-descriptive term without any prejudicial connotation.

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