Can the NFL really control every clip from every game?

The first I caught wind of this rather offbeat story was when I noticed a tweet from a friend saying that sports site Deadspin had been suspended on Twitter. And what was the sin that they were guilty of? Spamming users? Trolling? Pornography? No… the NFL filed a complaint about them for tweeting motion GIFs of key plays from football games. And Deadspin wasn’t the only one. (Fox News)

Twitter accounts for websites Deadspin and SB Nation were suspended by the social media platform Monday night after the NFL filed notices related to their use of copyrighted video highlights.

The NFL told The Associated Press that it requested Twitter “disable links to more than a dozen pirated NFL game videos and highlights that violate the NFL’s copyright,” adding that it did not request that any Twitter accounts be disabled.

The NFL sent 18 Digital Millennium Copyright Act notices regarding the Gawker-owned Deadspin account, said Gawker social media strategist Terron Moore via Twitter.

The league is notorious for guarding its brand and hunting down anyone who they feel is infringing on their intellectual property. Some instances are completely understandable, such as people who try to sell shirts, hats, beer koozies or other merchandise with team names or logos on them. The NFL sells those things themselves, both online and at games, so allowing others to do it takes money out of their pocket. They also jealously ride shotgun on who gets to broadcast any games, either on TV, radio or the web. But now they’re chasing down people who show clips of individual plays?

There comes a point where you really start angering the fans when you try to micromanage every instance even vaguely related to the sport. And as Rick Maese at the Washington Post points out, it may be a losing battle for the NFL anyway because there are simply too many people doing it to lock them all up.

Experts in Internet video and copyright law say it is a legal space increasingly difficult to monitor and protect as tens of thousands of social media users see fit to share video snippets from exclusive broadcasts of sports events that networks pay billions of dollars to secure. Like an endless game of whack-a-mole, even as leagues knock down some users for posting unauthorized videos, many, many more inevitably pop up elsewhere on the Internet.

“The practical challenge here is not easy to deal with,” said Ryan Vacca, the director of the Intellectual Property Center at the University of Akron School of Law. “With social media, there’s so many actors involved in the process, it’s very tough to police, especially if you’re working in an industry that’s time-sensitive as sports is. Unless you have a huge team ready to pounce and police these sites, it’s going to be really difficult to be able to stop it 100 percent of the time.”

The broadcasts are the property of the NFL. I get it. But how aggressive can they really be when their protective efforts begin negating the fun of watching, talking about and sharing information on the games for the fans? I suppose there’s a case to be made when it comes to a site like Deadspin where they are using the clips to drive users to their site and generate revenue. Ideally the league would like web surfers to go to the NFL’s site or that of the individual teams to watch the clips and hopefully shop in their store. But they’re also going after individual users who snag a clip on their cell phone and upload it. When it’s just the fans talking to each other on social media and not making any money off of the content the league starts looking like an ogre more than simply a prudent business operation. That’s no good for the sport in the end, so perhaps they could make an effort to just chill out on this a bit. Not all pirates are worth chasing.