Loving NFL football is easy.
So is hating the NFL.
The league that has everything – a chokehold on our consciousness, a multitude of billion-dollar revenue streams, a waiting list of eager partners and willing advertisers – is never satisfied. The NFL continues to pursue unconquered territories and fight nonexistent threats, almost daring the public to say “Enough already!”
Yet it marches on, the Nothing Funny League, a cold, brutish character that sucks the life from fans aside from the 60-minute contests. Personal seat licenses, unnecessary late games on school/work nights, the local “blackout” rule (suspended this season under pressure), regular ticket prices for irregular, exhibition games … there’s no limit on disdain.
Not even for a measly six seconds.
The NFL isn’t the only sports league to complain about GIFs and Vines, the popular snippets of highlights commonly posted on Twitter and elsewhere. Ultimate Fighting Championship, the Big 12 and the Southeastern Conference have voiced their objections, too. But commissioner Roger Goodell heads the biggest bully in sports, leading the way as Twitter suspended accounts for two high-profile sites Monday.
Deadspin’s Twitter account was reactivated Monday night but the account for SB Nation’s GIF handle was still suspended as of Wednesday evening. The NFL wants everyone to know it’s not at fault.
“The NFL sent routine notices as part of its copyright enforcement program requesting that Twitter disable links to more than a dozen pirated NFL game videos and highlights that violate the NFL’s copyrights,” the league said in a statement. “We did not request that any Twitter account be suspended.”
That wasn’t necessary. Twitter has a deal to distribute highlights and the social media company doesn’t want to upset its partner.
But there’s no reason for alarm on the NFL’s part. The prevalence of quick, video replays don’t dent the league’s bottom line. They don’t hurt The Shield or damage the brand. They simply enhance the experience for fans viewing a second screen – their computer or smart device – while watching the game.
GIFs and Vines create a sense of community for those who aren’t in the stadium. Sort of like the kinship among fans in attendance, minus the price gouging, long lines and drunken brawls.
Whether the NFL and other leagues have legal standing in their objections is unclear. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act forbids the repurposing of copyrighted material without a license to do so. Twitter suspended the Deadspin and SB Nation accounts in response to takedown notices filed under DMCA.
This case highlights a long-running argument over the use of game highlights by publishers who don’t own broadcast rights. License holders point to DMCA. Publishers point to the fair use doctrine found in copyright law.
According to the Center for Media & Social Impact, “Fair use is the right to usecopyrighted material without permission or payment under some circumstances – especially when the cultural or social benefits of the use are predominant. It is a general right that applies even in situations where the law does not provide an explicit authorization for the specific use in question. As with more familiar rights of free expression, people use this right without any formal notification or registration.”
Of course the NFL doesn’t recognize the cultural and social benefits of blooper GIFs and highlight Vines. They’re not preceded by dollar signs.
Again, the NFL isn’t alone in claiming that six-second slivers infringe on its intellectual property rights. ESPN and Univision scoured the Internet to remove Vine clips of World Cup goals last year. Last month, a U.S. appeals court cleared the way for a trial involving a music publishing company, which filed a lawsuit against a mother for uploading a 29-second video of her toddler dancing to Prince’s “Let Go Crazy.” The three-judge panel ruled that fair use must be considered before copyright holders ask services such as YouTube (and Twitter) to remove content.
No sports entity is more ubiquitous than the NFL, but it should mimic the NBA’s approach to fair use. Instead of worrying about after-the-fact vignettes intended to amuse and entertain its fans, the NBA concentrates on protecting real-time broadcasts from piracy.
“We have always believed that fans sharing highlights via social media is a great way to drive interest and excitement in the NBA,” spokesman Mike Bass told The Washington Post. “Our enforcement efforts are not aimed at fans, but rather are focused on the unauthorized live streaming of our games.”
Deadspin and SB Nation aren’t “fans,” but they essentially provide free marketing and advertising. Their GIFs and Vines engage current NFL enthusiasts and help create new ones.
The league should love the snippets as much as we do. And as much as we love football.
No wonder we hate the NFL.