The UK's Premier League Slided Tackle Football Life in Motion GIFs and Vines

Following the World Cup 2014 in Brazil, and the massive spread of animated GIFs, Vines, and “GIF-goal” on the Internet, mostly over Twitter and Vine (the short-form video sharing service acquired by Twitter in October 2012) but also on Facebook, the most-watched football league in the world is trying to protect their intellectual property rights. According to Dan Johnson, director of communications at the Premier League, GIF are a breach of copyright law. But is it, really? 

Graphics Interchange Format, mostly commonly known as the acronym “GIF”, has not only been the subject of disagreement over its pronunciation, even called the “The Most Absurd Religious War in Geek History” (for the record, it should be pronounced so it starts with a "j" rather than with a hard "g"; although President Obama preferred to use the "hard g"), but due to its widespread usage on the Internet recently caught the attention of the UK's Premier League communication director (the legal division was perhaps still on holidays). Simply put, GIFs are image files, sometimes animated, that are compressed to reduce transfer time (introduced by CompuServe in 1987). 

What’s the big deal of a “GIF-goal” on Twitter or Vine? Good question. One may argue that, if you really like football, a “GIF-goal”, lasting just a few seconds, is not going to replace the experience of watching a football match. Besides the fact that you eventually will have to wait for an update of the game on your phone, the quality of the GIF is often very poor, and you will have to be lucky that the “GIF-maker” will get the right angle at the right time (only a neutral observer can do that; if you really like football, no way that you not gonna jump around, scream, and shout. Therefore, no time for a GIF! There is also a high chance that a person may want to watch the highlights of the match, at a later stage, in a good quality, on Youtube for instance. But, as always with football, a lot of money, broadcasting rights and contracts are involved. For instance, The Sun has an app (“Sun Goals”) which shows, among others, Premier League goals and video highlights within two minutes of the moment. but (after your month trial) fans have to pay $11.68 per month (£7 a month) to access it. Therefore, GIF and Vine, the mobile service that lets you capture and share short (6 seconds or less) looping videos, are seen as a potential lack of profits.

Is it not going too far? As it was reported by TorrentFreak, “taking down GIFs will be a huge resource drain and will do little to stop availability of content. The files are too tiny, far too easily shared and come from potentially thousands of directions. Add to this the problem of having to nuke content in near real-time, and this becomes an unsolvable problem, at least by enforcement means”. Moreover, there are already a good number of alternatives to GIFs which renders the taking down process harder and, as it is the case with BitTorrent sites, a fight lost in advance.  

In the U.S., in SOFA Entertainment, Inc. v. Dodger Productions, Inc., 2013 WL 1004610, (9th Cir. 2013), Dodger Productions used a seven-second clip, owned by SOFA, of Ed Sullivan’s introduction of the Four Seasons on The Ed Sullivan Show in its musical Jersey Boys. In this case, the Court ruled that the defendant’s use of a clip from plaintiff’s work was fair use, particularly because it not only did not harm the plaintiff’s copyright but also because “society’s enjoyment of Dodger’s creative endeavor [was] enhanced with its inclusion”[1]. One may easily argue that the tiny part of the game used in the GIF and/or in the Vine 6 seconds or less videos do not harm UK's Premier League’s copyright but simply promote the enthusiasm, excitement and passion for the league. Under UK Law, where the notion of fair dealing is more commonly used, and defined as term used to describe some limited activities that are allowed without infringing copyright, using material for the purpose of reporting current events is permitted provided that: The amount of the material quoted (captured in this case) is limited to reporting the important news in a football game, namely the goals. 

In other words, Mr. Johnson, this ongoing battle against GIFs, if not without any legal basis, is another game of whack-a-mole. Raising the so-called breach of copyright law on the day before the opening of the new 2014-2015 season was most likely not the best way to reduce GIFs on the Internet over the weekend.


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