Does filming a movie being filmed violate copyright? A man who passed by the set of Transformers 3 found his Youtube footage of the shoot removed for copyright violation after Paramount Studios complained.
On Monday business strategist Ben Brown was in a meeting in a downtown Los Angeles office building when he heard a commotion outside the window. When he looked down, he saw the alleyway had been closed off to shoot an exterior scene for a movie - a common enough sight in L.A.
But this movie was more than meets the eye. "I immediately recognized it," says Brown. "‘Oh my God, it's Transformers!'"
It turned out Brown was witnessing one of the first days of filming for Transformers 3. A fan of the toy-inspired robot franchise, he whipped out his iPhone and captured about 3 minutes of video showing a film crew standing around, followed by three pretty awesome seconds of a hydraulic lift flinging a car 100 feet down the alley.
Brown says he posted the video to YouTube, where it was soon accumulating 1,000 views an hour after being spotted by entertainment sites. Unfortunately, it was also apparently spotted by Paramount Pictures, the production company behind Transformers. Brown says Paramount promptly issued a take down notice to the Google-owned YouTube, which unceremoniously yanked the video and warned Brown that repeated copyright violations would get him banned.
"I'm not a copyright expert," says Brown. "But I know that I wasn't violating anyone's copyright."
Dubious DMCA notices are the dog bites man story of the internet. But this might be the first case of a movie studio accusing someone of piracy for filming the people filming a movie - on public streets, no less. Brown has filed a DMCA counter-notice, but YouTube told him it'll take up to two weeks to restore the video unless Paramount retracts its copyright claim. Paramount's parent company, Viacom, is currently suing Google for allegedly allowing copyright infringement on YouTube.
It not likely anyone mistook the cellphone footage as actual movie clip, so it seems possible that someone at Paramount saw "Transformers" in the YouTube title and fired off the notice without watching the video. That would be sad, since issuing bogus DMCA notices can sometimes be civilly actionable. Plus it would mean they missed some excellent car-flinging.
A second video shot by one of Brown's coworkers is still on YouTube, and at the top of this post. There was no answer at Paramount's press office late Friday afternoon.
This post originally appeared on Wired's Threat Level.