First came Robin van Persie’s gravity defying header against Spain. Then came its recap on Vine. And now, the crackdown. These days social media can work wonders for any event until it involves copyrights and trademarks, as sports broadcasters across the world seem to have discovered over the last couple of weeks.
For the millions spent by dozens of broadcasters to acquire the rights of World Cup matches and beam them live to billions of homes across the world, it’s the social networking websites that are stealing the spotlight. Hundreds of short video clips of World Cup matches have gone viral on Twitter and Facebook, giving FIFA officials sleepless nights.
Sports channels pay FIFA millions to legally own the footage. The world governing body earned a minimum of $2bn in TV and media rights deals for the 2010 World Cup.
Big bucks are at stake this year too. For instance, ESPN paid $100 million while Spanish broadcaster Univision had to shell out approximately $325 million for the rights. Under pressure to act, they have now started shooting off take-down notices to Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites.
But the challenge is overwhelming, admitted a FIFA spokesperson. “The increased use of the internet as a viewing platform for sport has created challenges for rights holders and event organisers. FIFA works closely with our Media Rights Licensees, expert service providers and legal authorities, so that we can protect revenue streams for football and social development in our 209 member associations,” the spokesperson told The Indian Express.
The World Cup is only half-way through and yet it has become a social media phenomenon, garnering more than one billion Facebook interactions and breaking online streaming records.
Vine, the Twitter-owned social networking service, which was launched last year, did not exist during the last World Cup. But this year it is on the frontline of social media onslaught. It gives the users an opportunity to chop the video and slice it into six-second clips, which are played on loop.
These are easy to capture, upload and view, and can be used to spread just about every goal or on-field antic. Most of these videos expire within 60 minutes.
Twitter handles like @SBNation, @ReplayLastGoal, @GoalFlash and others have been happily serving as ‘’third parties’’ who upload the video clips.
Its ubiquity also raises question about the extent of protecting rights in the digital era. And it is not just FIFA which is feeling the pinch, the Indian Premier League (IPL) too has been facing a monumental task and has taken a few preventive measures.
Nandan Kamath, whose company Copyright Integrity International protects IPL’s rights, told this paper: “While the length of these videos is admittedly short, there are instances in which they reproduce material audio-visual content that impacts the value of the official broadcaster’s exclusive rights. In such cases, we’ve worked to take down the relevant content under the provisions of copyright law.”
He admits it has become a challenge to safeguard the interests of the rights holders who pay millions.
“There are always new and interesting challenges when you are protecting the valuable assets of a major sports event like the IPL. The tournament has had a robust and responsive anti-ambush marketing and rights protection programme from the first season. As a result, protection has stayed abreast of technological progress and advances. We monitor all social media platforms. We’ve a dedicated team and technology for around-the-clock surveillance. We evaluate the legal angles and in case of a copyright infringement, we contact the respective platforms and send a legal notice. They act accordingly,” Kamath explained.
“We have to engage with social media but the rights holders deserve a protection from piracy. So the key is to strike a balance.” But ‘striking balance’ between traditional copyright laws with the ever-evolving digital media has not been easy and social media users are exploiting this gray area.