Shortly after a disintegrating NASCAR vehicle spewed debris into the crowd, a spectator uploaded a terrifying clip of the accident and the aftermath to YouTube. But the clip was suddenly removed with the message, “This video contains content from NASCAR, who has blocked it on copyright grounds.”
The removal sparked disbelief from journalists — including myself — who wondered if NASCAR’s quick response was motivated by protecting its image rather than protecting its copyright. Then NASCAR responded with an unusual justification.
“The fan video of the wreck on the final lap of today’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race was blocked on YouTube out of respect for those injured in today’s accident,” explained NASCAR in a statement to The Verge. “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.”
NASCAR wasn’t claiming copyright, but compassion. A couple hours later, the clip reappeared and YouTube responded. “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,” YouTube said in a statement, reversing its earlier decision to heed NASCAR’s request to remove the clip.
While I applaud YouTube’s response, you have to wonder how this happened in the first place. NASCAR claims it owns the copyright of any photos or video captured inside the event — which is legally questionable to begin with — and by extension it enforced that blanket copyright by pressuring YouTube to remove a particularly damaging clip soon after it was posted. YouTube is the largest video newsgathering platform in the world, and governments routinely demand that it remove particularly damning clips — and much more graphic ones — of newsworthy events. Somehow, NASCAR did what governments have been unable to do, under a very loose interpretation of the DMCA.
Second, even if NASCAR did have the right to pull the video under the DMCA, the right of the crowd to tell a tragic story should supersede it. The photographer, Tyler Andersen, was covering a news story unfolding around him, and he wanted to tell the world about it (he alerted ESPN on Twitter to his clip.) After NASCAR released its compassion statement, Anderson tweeted:
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
However, it’s his right to capture and distribute that video as a citizen journalist, and the only disrespect at play here originated from NASCAR itself (which, by the way, didn’t waste any time posting its own YouTube clip of the accident.) While NASCAR officials provided few details of the accident in a Saturday night press conference, workers were already racing to fix the fence in time for Sunday’s big event — the season-opening Daytona 500.