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.