Crash Video Controversy Puts NASCAR Copyright Grab in Spotlight

A serious car crash at the NASCAR Nationwide Series Drive4COPD 300 this past Saturday caused debris to go flying into the stands, sending a number of spectators to the hospital — some with very serious injuries. A fan named Tyler Andersen was in the area where the accident happened, and had his camera recording video as the whole thing unfolded. After the incident made national headlines, Anderson posted the 1m16s video above to YouTube (warning: it doesn’t show any injuries, but it’s a bit disturbing).

NASCAR wasn’t too pleased with the video, and sent YouTube a DMCA takedown request, claiming that it was a case of copyright infringement. YouTube complied and took down the video, sparking cries of “censorship.”

This is what the video was briefly replaced with after the NASCAR takedown request

This is what the video was briefly replaced with after the NASCAR takedown request

NASCAR then claimed that the takedown request was out of concern for the fans that appear in the video:

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. 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.

YouTube responded by putting the video back up, and released a statement saying,

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.

What’s interesting about this whole situation is that it turns out that NASCAR tickets do include a claim over photographs and videos captured by spectators during the event. NASCAR fan Mike Fleming shared a photo of the back of his ticket, which reads

NASCAR owns the rights to all images, sounds, and data from this NASCAR event.

Poytner has published an interesting look into what these terms mean for fair use, copyright, fans, and journalists. They also quote lawyer and former journalist Chip Stewart as saying,

[…] this flies in the face of copyright law, which classically does not allow one to copyright news and facts. To me, a recording of a fact is a fact […] The way copyright works now is that the copyright automatically attaches at the moment the work is created; in this case, when the fan recorded the video. Now, NASCAR was asserting that it actually owned those images because of the ticket. But to enforce the copyright, NASCAR would need to actually register it. And I don’t think NASCAR could actually walk into the copyright office, carrying the recording and a copy of the ticket, and be granted enforceable rights to that video.

It looks like even though NASCAR did claim copyright of Andersen’s video through the ticket Andersen purchased, the company chose not to pursue that claim when it came to defending the takedown request of the YouTube video.

  • Antonio Carrasco

    Wonder how well Nascar unilateral rights grab would hold up in court. I think its BS

  • Keith McKenna

    Since Nascar claims to own the video, I wonder if they paid the camera owner a rental fee for the equipment that captured the footage they now claim to own.

  • Jim King

    Nascar isn’t the only entity that claims ridiculous copyright ownership. If you use an image of the HOLLYWOOD sign without paying a licensing fee, they will come after you & now Portland, OR is attempting the same trick with the sign at the city limits. All just greed & basically only enforceable because they will out-spend someone in court, just like MONSANTO & other greedy unethical organizations.

  • Bill Bentley

    They don’t need to pay him anything. They had their own cameras rolling and could easily have put up the footage on You Tube themselves. This is no different than taking a video camera into a movie theater or a Cirque du Soleil show and then posting it on the iWebs.

  • Matt

    Did that not end when it became news? It is not always black and white…

  • Jay

    Are they bold enough to ban cameras for these type of events?

  • wickerprints

    NASCAR tried to censor the video not because they legitimately believed they could enforce the copyright provision on the ticket, but simply because the incident was an EMBARRASSMENT to them, and their lawyers felt that the content of the video might contain evidence of NASCAR’s negligence or liability. Their copyright claim is only the means by which NASCAR is trying to silence its critics. Event organizers are interested in only one thing: profit. To the extent that their profit goals are being subverted by unflattering information, they will do whatever is in their power to exert media control–this is why there are such overreaching contracts printed on tickets, and prohibitions against photography or videography at venues. Now that everyone has access to a camera, and the footage is easily distributed online, organizers have decided that what they want are fans who will pay hundreds of dollars a pop for some manufactured, manicured version of their truth, and then to pay again to have the privilege of seeing it on TV later on.

  • butterface

    Unfortunately, what you’re saying is true.

  • Ken Jones

    A movie or Cirque du Soleil is artistic expression. A race is an event. I’m not sure how someone can claim copyright over images someone else records of an unplanned, newsworthy event. There is a strong argument of fair use in this case.

  • lpo

    ..was blocked on YouTube out of respect for those injured in today’s accident ..

    …. yea respect……. $_$

  • ganzo

    what if i take a picture of HOLLYWOOD sign and then go in north corea? they can catch me?

  • alex

    on another hand, nascar? dumbest sport ever?

  • Emily Boyd

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  • Brian Grady

    This makes my head hurt.

  • Gary Martin


  • Matt

    Well, they draw +100k fans to their races and have broadcasts of them as well. So, not so dumb. The racing has its own set of stratagies and challenges. Just because they have a southern draw does not mean they are dumb. There have been a lot of F1 and IRL drivers who have raced with them and did OK, not really great.

  • Tony Hart

    The thing I find astonishing is that it seems to have become quasi-normal for companies to effectively ‘claim ownership’ of content they didn’t create merely by saying ‘we own’. That’s not dissimilar to me claiming ownership of my neighbours house by stating ‘I own your house’. It is merely a statement and in no-way fact.

  • G

    Some events band “pro-like” cameras (basically dslrs and in some cases any system camera). To ban all cameras would be hard.. you can’t stop people bringing their phones.

  • sixchain

    Don’t spill the beer.

  • Brent Busch

    NHRA pulled the same crap a few years back when fan footage of funny car driver Scott Kalitta’s accident and death hit YouTube. They also have similar wording on the back of their tickets.

  • Scott

    I think it depends on the reaon the video was posted. If it’s a fact, or even to show someone’s opinion connected to fact(s) or news, then it’s a fair use. If he’s trying to make money from the footage and has little to do with sharing information or opinion, then that should probably not be allowed. But then again, I think we need to stand up for freedom of the press, which really is anyone getting out the news, analysis, and opinion, etc. and freedom of speech, including photos, videos, and writings. If not, then we have to wonder what is next in terms of people and corporations, especially, saying everything is ‘owned’ and we can’t photograph, videotape, write, or talk about it.

  • Scott

    I think it depends on the reason the video was posted. That’s how my first sentence should have read.

  • Neoracer Xox

    I gotta say, thats the most exciting thing to happen in Nascar for YEARS!!

  • Todd Gardiner

    You CAN stop people from bringing their phones, as a matter of law and of practical procedure. But as a marketing issue or customer-friendly policy it is a bad idea.

    Sneak peek movie screenings regularly make it clear on their special tickets that cameras AND phones are prohibited and they perform searches for such equipment, storing those they find for later retrieval. Hypothetically this could be done at NASCAR or any other event. If you want to really piss off your fan-base.

  • Chad Thompson

    I agree with those who say that NASCAR took action against this video in order to protect their own image…not the lively hood of the fans.

    I did NASCAR photography as a contractor for over three years. In my case (because I was under contract) each image I took instantly belonged to NASCAR and their sponsors. I was allowed two things under this contract: 1. a paycheck and 2. rights to display my images, but not sell them. I agreed to both of these terms and had no problems with it.

    Here is where it got tricky. If I were to photograph a car…which was nearly half of what I was doing, that one single image instantly became property of each sponsor in clear view of the image. So in turn each image has just as much jurisdiction to one person as it did many (and still does).

    You have to think also, these fans are on privately owned property. Photography to instantly be owned and controlled by an individual must be taken on public property. These race tracks when housing a NASCAR sanctioned event even give up their own rights. When NASCAR is in town, it is their rules and their terms. At least that’s what the speedway administrations informed me.

    I saw some photographers being kicked out of events by NASCAR personel and there was nothing that track owners could do about it.

    Although I was in a different situation, I suppose the private property informant laws and the clearly stated terms on the back of each spectators ticket hold up.

  • karakal

    *gggg* Yes, because they get bored after the first two rounds and do okay while sleeping… Sorry, Nascar is the dumbest sport ever, but what do I know… I am just an European from the motherland of high culture…