What’s up with NASCAR’s Crash Footage Copyright Scandal?

Full disclosure: we’re not huge NASCAR fans, but we were intrigued by the little PR dustup regarding the most interesting thing to happen to the sport in some time: this pre-Daytona 500 weekend crash, which injured 30 or more bystanders (amazingly, the drivers all walked away).

That’s the league’s official video of the wreck–and it’s apparently the only footage anyone can share without landing in a weird legal limbo.

NASCAR claims that it “owns the rights to all images, sounds and data” from every race–and when some attendees posted clips of the crash on YouTube, the league quickly ordered them removed. YouTube complied…at first. Then things got a little more complicated.

NASCAR’s initial statement held that the footage had to go because of copyright violations stemming from that whole “images, sounds and data” stipulation. But when taken to its extreme, that policy would eliminate a lot of potentially valuable user-generated content, no? The Indy500 doesn’t seem to have a problem with fans sharing copyrighted images. NASCAR, possibly anticipating that sort of critique, changed its tune and claiming that it ordered the videos removed “in deference to the uncertain health status” of the injured fans.

That’s strange. We have a feeling that, while NASCAR loves to broadcast awesome footage of high-speed collisions, they’re not so keen on releasing clips of injured spectators–especially right before the biggest race of the season. It’s a PR thing, right?

So can the brand yank any sort of related fan footage? YouTube doesn’t think so: While the service initially agreed to take the DIY clips down (standard operating procedure), someone soon put them back up after determining that:

“Our partners and users do not have the right to take down videos from YouTube unless they contain content which is copyright infringing.”

Two things are clear: NASCAR’s legal claims aren’t as strong as they sound and the league will need to perform some sort of safety review at the end of this season in order to protect its reputation.

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