Earlier this week, two ESPN-alternatives, Deadspin and SBNation, had Twitter accounts shut down following copyright claims made by the NFL regarding the websites posting GIFs and Vines of NFL games. As one might guess, the Internet was not happy and saw this as just another example of the NFL fully embracing being the “No Fun League.”
The NFL has its problematic aspects, but I can still see both sides of the argument.
The source of the problem is that copyright law, and specifically the topic of “fair use,” is infuriatingly vague. This law essentially states that copyrighted work must be used for the purposes of “criticism, comment, news reporting” to constitute fair use. However, it goes on to say that the effect this work would have on the source work must be taken into account, among other measures.
And that is where the NFL, along with the MLB, who is also cracking down on GIFs and Vines, has solid footing. If any of you have read my previous articles, you should know by now that I hate agreeing with the NFL. However, the league does have a point. These snippets posted by Deadspin and SBNation are not always accompanied by any sort of comment or criticism except for maybe a stray “LOL” or “YOU HAVE TO SEE THIS” (this is not to take away from Deadspin or SBNation, which are sites I frequent.) Sometimes they just show the play, so theoretically, these highlights are taking away from the NFL’s official product.
All that being said, I have two major problems with this course of action, one focused particularly on the NFL and one on major sports in general.
The majority of NFL highlights are extremely short: an incredible catch, a defender made to look a fool by a vicious juke, a crushing but exciting hit. But if you were to try and watch one of these highlights with a link provided by the NFL, you must first sit through a commercial, which is oftentimes longer than the highlight itself. And unlike other leagues, especially the MLB, the NFL has refused to adapt by combating the GIF accounts with GIFs of its own.
This brings me to my other problem: shutting down GIF and Vine posting accounts without including an alternative only serves to hurt the product. Sports are always looking to solidify their fan bases, and there’s no better way to do that than capturing the youth. Instead, these leagues seem to act as though they hate their younger constituents. In this era of social media, GIFs and Vines are king. Preventing access to them without any sort of alternative is damning. At the end of the day, the NFL’s official Twitter isn’t going to post GIFs of Eagles coaches making suggestive play call signals, a totally befuddled Jaguars fan or Tom Brady cursing out the world after a dropped pass. These, along with the highlight plays, are what are often posted. The NFL’s response is a typical sports governing body reaction. They need to cool their jets and see the bigger picture.
Obviously, the NFL and other sports leagues have a right to protect the product they produce. The problem is, in typical monopolistic fashion, they do so reactively and poorly.