August 5, 2008

Skeptic and Psychic Spoon-Bender Settle Suit

Just over a year ago, Brian Sapient of the Rational Response Squad and the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a lawsuit against spoon-bending Israeli psychic Uri Geller and his corporation, Explorologist. Sapient had prepared and posted a video showing skeptic James Randi exposing the rather tawdry secrets of how Geller claimed to use his psychic powers to read minds and exercise telekinesis.

The thing of it is, if Geller had portrayed himself as an illusionist, as strictly an entertainer, he would have been left alone. But because he insisted his psychic powers were real, the higher a profile he set for himself, the more of a target he became. Randi and Sapient and a bunch of other people would have left him alone if he had been just another magician. No one seriously thinks that a stage performer does real magic -- you know it's an illusion, but it's entertaining all the same to wonder how such a thing could be done. The wonder of the trick is more than enough entertainment without having to really believe that demons or supernatural forces are involved. But that's not the route Geller took -- he claimed to be the real thing.

So when Sapient posted the video on his website, he included text demonstrating what a fraud he thought Geller was. He pointed out, in no uncertain terms, that Geller was as good as stealing money from people by pawning off his sleight-of-hand parlor tricks as real psychic phenomena. And Geller was pissed about it, because Sapient has an audience of his own and that cuts in to Geller's market share. So he demanded that YouTube take down the video. His claim was that Explorologist owned eight seconds of the video used in the nearly fourteen minutes of Randi's open-licensed end product.

Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA), you can do that if you claim your copyright was violated by the posting of the video, and the third-party hosting service has to comply, and is then immunized from further liability. But the person who demanded the video be taken down becomes potentially liable to the poster of the video for violating the poster's copyrights. So Sapient sued. Geller sued back, and that was quickly dismissed.

Today, the lawsuit settled for an undisclosed exchange of cash (Geller would be the one who is paying, obviously, and likely the amount is only a portion of EFF's attorney fees) and the release of those eight seconds on a creative commons license. Presumably, further comment on the issue will be restricted to what has already been published.

Watch the video, now available without DCMA violation, here:

It shouldn't take a lawsuit to establish that eight seconds of a purported psychic's tricks, in a fourteen-minute video criticizing the psychic for bilking and decieving people, is fair use. Come to think of it, it shouldn't take a lawsuit to demonstrate to people that psychics are frauds, phonies, and fakes. Congratulations to Brian Sapient and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

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