Spectators, Video And YouTube Rights

This is not a golf story but SI.com's Michael McCann files an interesting analysis of Saturday's NASCAR crash caught on a camera phone and Tweeted by a spectator to YouTube, only to be taken down at NASCAR's request.

The issue has ramifications in golf where fans are taking video, and as golf media can tell you, the PGA Tour aggressively protects its television partners to the point the partners even don't like it (see Golf Channel's crticism of the Tour's Twitter policy this January.)

Thankfully, I'm pretty sure in golf a rights issue will revolve around fan video a great shot or on-course brouhaha between players, and not from life-threatening debris.

Anyway, McCann's piece is informative. This was of particular interest:

Benefiting NASCAR, courts have held that broadcasts of sporting events, though not the events themselves, are protected by copyright law. NASCAR has a compelling incentive to protect the broadcasts of races, as it, along with NASCAR drivers and teams, derive considerable revenue from television and other broadcast contracts. If spectators could essentially broadcast games through their iPhones and YouTube, television companies would pay much less for the rights to broadcast NASCAR races.

But only about 12 seconds of Anderson's 1 minute, 16 video is actually of a NASCAR race; the rest centers on the crash and fans scrambling for cover from flying debris. NASCAR's ownership over this latter part of the video is questionable, since "facts" and "news" are not subject to copyright protection and the First Amendment safeguards public access to them. The NBA knows this quite well. Back in 1997, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that the NBA could not claim copyright in its stats and scores, which Motorola had broadcast through a wireless paging device known as SportsTrax. The reasoning? Facts and news are not copyright protected.

It could be argued that at about 13 seconds into Anderson's video, the race transformed from a copyright-protected NASCAR event into a not-copyright-protected news event. Fans screaming and fleeing for cover is not part of any race, but is certainly newsworthy.

And if this is all too thoughtful and classy for you, there is always the NMA television take on the incident and NASCAR's handling.