GIF-Gate

The NFL needs to realise you have to GIF to receive.

Various people try and police the internet. The pedant police are everywhere, for example. But when you get massive organisations trying to clamp down on what people see as their right to a bit of harmless fun, then naturally things kick off.

“The NFL sent routine notices as part of its copyright enforcement program requesting that Twitter disable links to more than a dozen pirated NFL game videos and highlights that violate the NFL’s copyrights. We did not request that any Twitter account be suspended.”

That’s what happened last week when Twitter, under pressure from the NFL, suspended the accounts of Deadspin and SBNation due to them using brief cuts of content for GIF purposes.

In truth, the furore does not quite warrant the –gate suffix I’ve stuck on it, but it is baffling at least from a strategy and PR point of view, if not the bigger picture of the freedom of speech/copyright tug of war. Although the two Twitter accounts in question are media outlets that would have some degree of commercial gain from using the images, it is still a bemusing stance from the NFL. They can’t honestly think anyone watched these brief snippets rather than watch highlight content on their own site.

GIFs are an integral, interactive facet of the NFL, and sports in general. EA Sports are clued up enough to realise this, and created the cool Giferator, which allows gamers to create their own GIFS. You would assume the NFL saw the merits in this and must have signed off on the Giferator. The suspending of Twitter accounts is completely at odds with the spirit of the GIF.

The NBA’s position on the sharing of their video footage on the internet is both interesting and exceptionally liberal, when contrasted to the NFL’s stance. Their commissioner, Adam Silver, allows fans to upload highlights to YouTube unhindered, as he simply believes that “highlights are marketing.”

For me, the wide use of GIFs does serve as marketing; it all helps fuel coverage and gets people talking about the most eventful plays of the week.

If the NFL relaxes, opens itself up for a bit of give and take and compromise, there are certainly some opportunities for them. Maybe some advertising space in return for supplying content for GIFs.

It is impossible for content owners to police everything. What should be of more concern to sports networks and authorities is the rise in popularity of live-streaming apps like Periscope. On the weekend of the Floyd Mayweather v Andrew Berto fight recently, Periscope had to respond to over 140 takedown notices. The NFL should concentrate on dealing with any illegal live streaming as and when it happens, and let the GIF be.

NFL fans should be encouraged to GIF, to upload and share their own content, which will increase engagement and reach, taking a lead from the EA Sports Giferator. This would help heal the disconnect that appears to be widening between the League and the fans.

For a sport that gave us something as ridiculous as ‘Deflategate’, it is ripe for parody, and this kind of conduct merely gives more ammo to their detractors. It furthers their negative reputation of trying to control and dictate (NFL = No Fun League is a popular, irreverent acronym definition doing the rounds on social media). To see some self-deprecation and humour in their communications would be refreshing. This was their bland, uninspired response to the Twitter suspensions:

“The NFL sent routine notices as part of its copyright enforcement program requesting that Twitter disable links to more than a dozen pirated NFL game videos and highlights that violate the NFL’s copyrights. We did not request that any Twitter account be suspended.”

The NFL is swiftly increasing in popularity in the UK, with Spurs’ new ground being built with a retractable pitch specifically for the hosting of 2 NFL games per year. In light of such positive international growth, the clamping down of GIFs seems so petty. The NFL don’t want a global reputation for curtailing fun. They might as well just roll with it and use the GIF to their advantage.

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