YouTube vs. NASCAR: Video Takedowns and its Implications on Copyright Law

Wednesday, February 27, 2013, by Collier Johnson

This past Saturday, NASCAR held its annual Daytona Nationwide race.  Things were running smoothly until a crash in the final lap of the event injured nearly 30 fans after parts of driver’s Kyle Larson’s car flew into the stands.  Almost instantaneously, footage of the wreck was uploaded to YouTube by a fan that was present at the race.  Perhaps even quicker than the footage was uploaded, it was taken down by YouTube at NASCAR’s request.  The video was replaced with a statement which read: “This video contains content from NASCAR, who has blocked it on copyright grounds.”  NASCAR had filed a request with YouTube to remove the video of the fan’s footage citing copyright concerns.  Google, YouTube’s parent company, immediately complied with the request.

NASCAR was simply incorrect in its interpretation of copyright law

The problem is that NASCAR was simply incorrect in its interpretation of copyright law.  The fans in attendance filmed the videos of the crash on their own recording devices and the content belonged to them, not NASCAR.  Many spectators called on Google to restore the content taken down given NASCAR’s incorrect belief in their rights in this case.  Google agreed with the spectators and restored the content with the following statement: 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.

The bigger issue here is the process by which Google took down the original video.  Apparently, when YouTube receives a takedown request from an organization citing copyright infringement, Google usually complies with the request in order to avoid liability.  If this is the case, it raises the possibility that a lot of content with only weak copyright claims are being taken down simply because a major outside organization has asked YouTube to do so.  In this case, Google stood its ground and restored the content but there is no guarantee that this will be followed in the future.  This was a very public event and there was a lot of public pressure for Google to restore the content.  A better and more efficient system is needed by content service providers like Google to ensure both that content infringing copyrights is taken down and content which does not infringe remain available to all.