The Struggle to Balance Fair Use and User Generated Content

The suspension of @Deadspin and @SBNation on Twitter raises questions about copyright, fair use and how to balance fair use with satisfying the voracious appetite for content online.

Content is what drives the Internet. However, the relationship between sharing and copyright has often been strained. So what does the temporary suspension of @SBNationGIF and @Deadspin on Twitter say about social sharing and copyright?

While back online as of now, both accounts were suspended from Twitter earlier this week. John Cook, executive editor at Gawker, said the company received 18 copyright notices in relation to tweets from the Deadspin account that contained NFL highlights in the form of GIFs. SB Nation was suspended in relation to GIFs and Vines that contained highlights.

The content was removed at the request of the NFL to remove “more than a dozen pirated N.F.L. game videos and highlights” the company said in a statement on Monday. However  “We did not request that any Twitter account be suspended.”

This sets up some interesting questions about social sharing online, especially in relation to sports content. When major sporting events generate billions of interactions, it’s natural to assume that clips and GIFs from games are going to be a part of the conversation. But the copyright holders have a vested interest in being the sole source for that sort of content. But is the content generated by rights holders enough to satisfy audiences?

If the lax attitude towards content ownership on other platforms is any indication, it will never be enough. Audiences of sporting events are highly engaged and have a voracious appetite for content. Still, copyright is copyright, and the NFL was totally within its rights to demand the content be taken down.

But when the conversation has the kind of energy generated by sporting events, will the desire to let the conversation happen overshadow the desire to maintain strict copyright?

Fay Sliger, a spokeswoman for SB Nation, said that the company tries “to keep our use of unlicensed third party footage within the bounds of fair use.” Is a GIF or a six second clip on Vine fair use when the moments within them could be considered to be in the public interest?

Readers: Do you think enforcement of copyright is more important than letting the social conversation flourish?