Last week two Twitter accounts, Deadspin and SBNationGif, were taken down after the NFL reported them for sharing its footage.

The footage was, of course, in the form of Vine video, that most popular format for 'real-time' sports clips.

With many sports fans now accustomed to searching Twitter for 'Vine Rooney goal' or similar (insert joke here, UK soccer fans), these DMCA takedown notices are a big deal.

So what does this mean for publishers and users? And has the NFL just blocked its own punt?

Are Vines/GIFs not free marketing for NFL?

This was many people's first reaction to the takedown notices.

What has NFL got to lose? Surely, interest on Twitter begets interest in live game footage?

Indeed, this is the outlook of some other sports leagues and associations, the NBA among them.

And does the law not allow fair use?

This is a bit of a grey area. Fair use is allowed in the US when reporting, analysing or summarising events.

A case in point is the nightly news, which shows short highlights.

The United States Code (copyright law) states that fair use is defined by the following factors:

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

It's point four that comes into play with NFL GIFs.

But NFL is moving into online rights

In June 2015 the NFL continued it's adaptation to digital media by selling Yahoo the rights to the first game broadcast globally over the internet, free to view. 

This first game is played in London at the end of October 2015 and it's feasible that the NFL sees takedown notices for real-time highlights as a way of increasing the value of this new product.

Similarly, the English Premier League has sold online rights (highlights) to The Times and The Sun newspapers and is pursuing GIF-crawl technology to protect this deal.

Not to mention the Twitter and NFL partnership

The NFL is an important partner for Twitter. The social platform sees sport as integral in its efforts to increase active users and engagement. Each live NFL game in the US is watched by approximately 20m TV viewers.

As such, the NFL has the only multiyear deal with Twitter Amplify (designed to complement TV action), including highlight video and promoted tweets.

One reason both parties may be more vested in enforcing copyright is Twitter's new pre-roll video ad system, which incentivises partner publishers to share more video, to give more impressions for advertisers to buy.

Making this product work is important for the future of Twitter's ad revenue. 

And a new SnapChat partnership

Snapchat and NFL have also partnered in 2015 with Live Stories. The concept is essentially the same - the NFL will curate behind-the-scenes content and advertisers will embed their own content, with Snapchat and the league sharing the spoils.

It's clear that the NFL will have zero tolerance of any publisher posting its highlights without permission (and let's not forget many companies are now publishers with the explosion of social media and online content marketing).

So publisher's must self-censor

Here's the rub for publishers. They must now understand that as social networks refine and ramp up their advertising platforms, self-censorship will become important to stay on the right side of a traffic souce that's vital to any publisher's livelihood.

As Deadspin columnist Drew Magary said on the transgressor's blog:

...why are we stupid enough to put the fate of our traffic in the hands of a third-party social network platform...?

Ben Davis

Published 19 October, 2015 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is Editor at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester, England. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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