Saturday afternoon NASCAR set off a social media storm when it used — technically, abused — the DCMA YouTube takedown tool to block a quickly spreading fan video of a horrific crash at Daytona. NASCAR admitted late that afternoon that the takedown was about controlling the video, saying it was a matter of “respect” for the 30-plus injured fans, while YouTube reversed the block within hours because it was not “copyright infringing.”
Now Marc Jenkins, NASCAR vice president of digital media, has explained the racing league’s actions to the Washington Post‘s Erik Wemple. Jenkins told Wemple they used the copyright takedown as the only available way to stop the Tyler Anderson video out of caution, not because it was a copyright violation. He’d also really rather we don’t see it as censorship or as routine.
So what is NASCAR’s usual policy for fan multimedia? Jenkins told Wemple:
We don’t enforce the guidelines unless the content is used commercially. … We do proactively go after pirated video of the television broadcast, but that’s the only time we use it. … We encourage our fans to take those videos and to send them out on Facebook or to tweet’em out … We’ve partnered with Twitter in the past. Our sport is based on, and one of our great attributes is — it’s open and easy to interact with us.
Jenkins didn’t apologize or say it wouldn’t be repeated, although I doubt NASCAR would do so again by abusing its YouTube takedown power unless it legitimately can claim copyright infringement.
What happened Saturday shows, though, that the policy holds only as long as NASCAR approves of what the fan is doing or is willing to tolerate. As I wrote then:
If NASCAR wants the boost from social media, as it clearly does given its interaction on Twitter, Facebook and other places, it should go all in.
Here’s Tyler’s video:
A horrific crash at Daytona Saturday afternoon sent more than a dozen fans to the hospital. The drivers involved walked away — almost unbelievably so in the case of rookie Kyle Larson, who emerged from less than half of his car after the rest went into the fence and the grandstand.
It also sent a lot of fans to social media with video and stills of the crash and its aftermath; many of them taken as eyewitnesses from the grandstands where the wreckage landed. Tyler Andersen, who describes himself on Twitter as a sophomore at Providence, posted a video that captured the whole sequence, including a tire that spun into nearby seats injuring someone near him and efforts to get assistance. He asked for prayers for the injured man before alerting ESPN to the video.
— Tyler(@TAndersen904) February 23, 2013
Andersen’s video quickly ricocheted, recommended to me by disparate parts of my timeline. I watched it once and when I went back to check something minutes later, it was gone.
I don’t know if this was the automated YouTube copyright police at work or if it was taken down because NASCAR or a media rightsholder complained. If it was the former, NASCAR has a sophisticated enough social media operation to know that the video was yanked and should be back up. If it was the latter, NASCAR has a sophisticated enough social media operation to know that rights or no rights, the video wasn’t going away and they might as well avoid the criticism of it.
.@nascar has nearly 1 million Twitter fans. more than 3 million likes on Facebook. That genie isn’t going back in the bottle.(Update: It was overt.See NASCAR’s explanation below.)
— Staci D Kramer (@sdkstl) February 23, 2013
Instead, news video taken by someone who narrowly missed being injured) was blocked — and as of this writing is still blocked. Meanwhile, Deadspin (of course, it was Deadspin), smartly grabbed a copy of the video and popped it right up.
Yes, NASCAR owns the copyright, something spelled out on tickets to races just as it is for many other events.
— Jay Busbee (@jaybusbee) February 23, 2013
(There are legal concerns here; I expect all of the video, stills and other records could be evidence in any case emerging from the crash.) And I can understand setting up rules applying it to live streaming or layering in length limits.
I agree with Anthony De Rosa:
Anyway, rights to media at NASCAR far less important issue than status of fans injured
— Anthony De Rosa (@AntDeRosa) February 23, 2013
And I’m not encouraging any fan to take video or pictures at personal risk or to do it instead of helping those around them if that is possible.
But this dynamic isn’t going away. For instance, at least one other video of this crash is up now (via SBNation)
Taking high-quality images and instantly sharing them is only getting easier. If NASCAR wants the boost from social media, as it clearly does given its interaction on Twitter, Facebook and other places, it should go all in.
— slfisher (@slfisher) February 23, 2013
As for the video of today’s crash, my initial response after the takedown, shared or favorited by dozens, stands:
.@nascar Strongly urge you to unblock fan video of Daytona crash. If you want the boost from social media, need to take it all.
— Staci D Kramer (@sdkstl) February 23, 2013
Update: As I was posting this, The Verge published a statement from NASCAR that it took down the video out of respect for those injured.
Information on the status of those fans was unclear and the decision was made to err on the side of caution with this very serious incident.
Meanwhile, Andersen, whose Twitter feed reflects being overwhelmed by the emotions of the afternoon,
Can fully understand why NASCAR took the video down. Meant no disrespect to any involved. Once again, keep all affected in your prayers.
— Tyler(@TAndersen904) February 24, 2013
Update 2: And YouTube saves NASCAR from having to reverse its decision by reinstating the video, telling the Washington Post’s Erik Wemple:
Our partners and users do not have the right to take down videos from YouTube unless they contain content which is copyright infringing, which is why we have reinstated the videos.
Will NASCAR try the copyright block again using the language on the ticket that claims it owns all rights? I hope not. Will other copyright owners get the message from YouTube that takedowns aren’t an accepted method of trying to control the flow of information? I doubt it.
I also doubt NASCAR is at risk if losing its YouTube account but the Google video portal lists that as a possible consequence of misusing the power of DCMA:
If you choose to request removal of content by submitting an infringement notification, please remember that you are initiating a legal process. Do not make false claims. Misuse of this process may result in the suspension of your account or other legal consequences.