Sunday, August 12, 2007

Get With The Times, NFL

It's 102º outside and football season is almost upon us. Thus, an overheated post about the NFL and the DMCA.

Law professor Wendy Seltzer brilliantly demonstred the down-the-rabbit-hole absurdity of the state of intellectual property law by posting a clip of an NFL broadcast to YouTube for her students' reference. The clip in question is that exact paragraph that NFL fans have mocked as long as it's been on TV -- you know, when the solemn voice intones:
"This telecast is copyrighted by the NFL for the private use of our audience. Any other use of this telecast or of any pictures, descriptions, or accounts of the game without the NFL's consent, is prohibited."
She posts this to YouTube as an example to her class of a copyright holder overstepping their bounds; think about it -- they're essentially saying that you need their permission to discuss the game with your friends the next day.

And here's where we go down the rabbit hole. Prof. Seltzer is explicitly demonstrating the ideas behind the principle of fair use to her class, so what does the NFL do? Yup, they send YouTube a DMCA takedown notice and YouTube pulls the video. So Prof. Seltzer sends YouTube a counter-notification (.pdf). They put the clip back up.

Great, system worked, right?

Not exactly. Twelve days after the clip was put back up, the NFL sent another takedown notice, and YouTube pulled the clip again. So the NFL leans on YouTube twice to get them to take down an example of how the NFL was already over-reaching as a claimant of copyright. Head-spinning yet?

Well, it just gets worse. The Computer & Communications Industry Association (a trade group with members like Google, Yahoo!, Red Hat, Oracle and Sun that has a sunnily positive attitude toward use of copyrighted material) has petitioned the FCC, and blogs are busily overthinking the matter.

Seems like if the second sentence of the NFL disclaimer read "Any other unauthorized use.." that'd take fair use into account and everyone would be happy. I guess that's too simple.

And in a similar vein: If you are a baseball fan and a stats freak, you have great resources available online. I can lose an afternoon playing with this site, and I'm not even that big a fan.

There's no similar repository for football information, though this site comes close. Or you can get some basic stuff straight from the league. But I'll bet they wouldn't be pleased if I scraped their site and dumped the data into, say, an Excel spreadsheet I could use for fantasy football and team tracking. Why not? That's a perfectly legitimate use of the data, and as long as I'm not selling the spreadsheet, what's the problem?

The problem is that all the major sports statistics are compiled by one company, the Elias Sports Bureau, and they don't let just anyone have it. In fact, their website is like a brick fucking wall that says, "Move along, nothing here to see." So fans have to compile their own stats, and there is no quality control over that data other than a good faith effort.

This is stupid. For every game in every league, there should be a an official file of stats that is not only available but useable by anyone.

So let's start a blog crusade, sports fans! FREE THE STATS!

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