Michael Moore, Jeff Gibbs Outraged After 'Planet of the Humans' Yanked From YouTube in Copyright Dispute
Filmmakers call removal of controversial documentary a "blatant act of censorship"
Michael Moore and Jeff Gibbs are crying foul after YouTube pulled their controversial environmental documentary Planet of the Humans from its site following a copyright infringement claim.
The film disappeared from YouTube Monday after amassing close to 8.5 million views since EP Moore and director Gibbs released it on the platform April 21, on the eve of Earth Day. The filmmakers tell Nonfictionfilm.com they received an automated notice from YouTube saying someone had asserted they owned footage contained in the documentary and wanted the film taken down. Gibbs dismisses the infringement claim as spurious and brands it another attempt to derail a film that has upset some in the environmental movement.
"This attempt to take down our film and prevent the public from seeing it is a blatant act of censorship by political critics of Planet of the Humans," Gibbs wrote in a statement obtained by NFF. "It is a misuse of copyright law to shutdown a film that has opened a serious conversation about how parts of the environmental movement have gotten into bed with Wall Street and so-called 'green capitalists.' There is absolutely no copyright violation in my film. This is just another attempt by the film’s opponents to subvert the right to free speech."
These Trumpian tactics are shameful.
The footage that triggered the copyright claim runs four seconds total within a sequence headlined “How Solar Panels & Wind Turbines Are Made.” The video depicts dump trucks atop heaps of rare earth metals, which are used in wind turbine manufacture. British environmental photographer Toby Smith tells the Guardian newspaper he shot the footage for a film on rare earth metals and that he filed the infringement claim with YouTube.
We reached out to Smith for confirmation but haven't received word back as yet. We did review a tweet Smith sent out that blasted the documentary.
"Now it's personal," Smith wrote in the since-deleted tweet. "[Michael Moore's] baseless. shite doc built on bull-shit and endless copyright infringements -- including my own work... Hey YouTube, fair-use (US law) can't stick for 90 minutes, there's a responsibility here surely."
A representative for Gibbs says the director incorporated the footage under “fair use,” an exception to U.S. copyright law that gives news reporters, producers and documentary filmmakers the right to use copyrighted material, so long as it is limited and serves a legitimate news purpose.
Moore and Gibbs say they filed a formal notice with YouTube disputing the copyright claim.
"We are working with YouTube to resolve this issue," Gibbs said in his statement, "and have the film back up as soon as possible."
Not content to wait, Moore and Gibbs quickly made Planet of the Humans available for free on Vimeo.
Planet of the Humans triggered immediate backlash in some quarters after it was posted on YouTube. It accuses environmental movement leaders of supporting the false premise that switching to renewable fuels alone can save Earth from the catastrophic effects of climate change. Gibbs argues the issue is much larger and that only action to reduce population growth, lower consumption and a radical adjustment of our transportation and food systems will forestall a coming environmental doomsday. He also accuses some environmentalists of buying into the idea that infinite economic growth is both environmentally sound and responsible, a notion the director rejects out of hand.
Among the strongest critics of the film is a fellow documentarian, Josh Fox, who earned an Oscar nomination for his anti-fracking film Gasland.
In a piece published in The Nation last month, Fox heaped scorn on Planet of the Humans.
"Because the film is so dangerous," Fox wrote, "so wildly off-track and full of misinformation, fossil fuel industry taking points, and unfounded, wacky statements you could be forgiven for thinking it was created by Breitbart News or Steve Bannon and not the erstwhile bastion of progressive bombast that is Michael Moore."
Fox also slammed the documentary for "its attack on renewable energy and on the basic premise of all climate action and modern environmentalism: that humanity must end our addiction to fossil fuels."
Fox led a campaign demanding the film be “retracted by its creators and distributors." He convinced one site that had posted a link to the documentary, Films For Action, to take down the film in April, but that site reposted the link within a day after receiving heavy criticism for imposing censorship.
Moore and Gibbs assert the copyright infringement claim is yet another attempt to keep the film from reaching audiences.
"Opponents of Planet of the Humans, who do not like its critique of the failures of the environmental movement, have worked for weeks to have the film taken down and to block us from appearing on TV and on livestream," Gibbs wrote in his statement. "Their efforts to subvert free speech have failed, with nearly eight and a half million people already viewing the film on YouTube. These Trumpian tactics are shameful, and their aim to stifle free speech and prevent people from grappling with the uncomfortable truths exposed in this film is deeply disturbing.
"PEN America, which was founded in 1922 and fights for the free speech of artists in the U.S. and around the world, came out strongly and denounced the initial attempt to censor this film, and we hope all champions of free expression condemn this act of censorship."
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on Deadline.com, CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and in Documentary magazine.