YouTube quietly yanks notorious video of Yusuf Islam, a.k.a. Cat Stevens, discussing Salman Rushdie

“This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by Yusuf Islam,” reads the banner at the YouTube page where the clip used to be. If you’ve ever seen it or read the transcript, you’ll know why. Weasel Zippers asks a good question:

I’m no lawyer but does he have a copyright claim over a interview he gave to a British television program?

Typically the copyright would vest in the network that owns the show so it would be their claim, not his. A simple case, then, of YouTube eagerly whitewashing a little Islamist hate speech at the behest of some legal muscle that’s being bankrolled by a celebrity? Answer: maybe not. British copyright law entitles participants in a recording to “performance rights,” described by Wikipedia as follows:

A performance is defined as a dramatic performance, a musical performance, a reading of a literary work or a variety act. The performers involved in a performance and any person who has recording rights with respect to a performance qualify for performance rights…

Performers at a qualified performance have the right to demand consent for the recording of that performance and the broadcasting of that performance, except when the recording is for private and domestic use. They also have the right to stop the playing of a performance in public or the communication to the public of that performance. Anyone who imports a recording that has breached performers’ rights, except when the importation is for private and domestic use, also further infringes performers’ rights. Further rights granted since then include the right to object to copying of the performance, the issuing of copies to the public, rental or lending of copies to the public and making the performance available to the public by electronic transmission at a time and place of the choosing of the public.

He probably had his lawyer call YouTube threaten to sue on this basis in the UK (and potentially the U.S. per the Berne Convention) unless YT removed the video immediately from its servers around the world. Not wanting a hassle over an old clip, they dutifully complied. Thus is an offense to the fine Anglo-American tradition of free speech obfuscated by the fine Anglo-American tradition of property rights. Like I say, read the transcript. And, in Rushdie’s words, “[l]et’s have no more rubbish about how ‘green’ and ‘innocent’ this man was.”

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