World Rugby, FIFA, and other sporting bodies need to get with the times

For those who followed the Rugby World Cup 2023, the last weekend may have felt rather vacant. Sure, the Brazil Grand Prix was on and there was a bit of club rugby on the go while the Springboks toured the country, but the lack of a World Cup match made the weekend feel a bit, empty.

As a rugby noob, I spent most of the time between matches watching analysis and commentary about the games in a bid to learn more about this sport which attracts millions of viewers every year. In the days since the World Cup finished, I’ve been consuming a lot of content on YouTube and TikTok about the sport and at the weekend a YouTube channel dropped a video I immediately placed into my Watch Later queue.

That video was So How Did South Africa Win The 2023 Rugby World Cup Final? from Squidge Rugby. The channel boasts over 200 000 subscribers and the content is centred around analysis of the game.

Unfortunately for me, I may never see that video as it was taken down by World Rugby and the channel received a copyright strike.

We can’t comment on the video that was taken down, because we never saw it but we can comment on what has truly become an alarming trend among global sporting bodies – a heavy finger on the copyright strike button.

Throughout the Rugby World Cup we noticed folks having tweets, TikToks and other content removed because it contained footage of the games. Unfortunately, much of the content posted was from well meaning creators or individuals simply trying to share their passion for the game only to get hit with a rather serious copyright strike.

A copyright strike is made possible through the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Passed by US Congress in 1998, the DMCA gives companies the ability to demand that service providers remove content that infringes on their copyright. It’s why many, if not all, YouTube creators make use of royalty-free music or avoid creating content that features copyrighted material.

However, there is another piece of legislation that creators lean on – fair use.

“In many countries, certain uses of copyright-protected works do not infringe the copyright owner’s rights. For example, in the United States, copyright rights are limited by the doctrine of “fair use,” under which certain uses of copyrighted material for, but not limited to, criticism, commentary, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research may be considered fair,” Google explains to creators.

There are four factors that determine whether a piece of content can be considered fair use as outlined by the Digital Media Law Project:

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole;
  4. and the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

While many creators claim that their work is fair use, the mechanisms for doing this come at great risk. This is because proving fair use can be a costly matter that ends up with a person going to court. As such, many creators don’t fight copyright claims, which we’d argue many big companies with in-house counsel are acutely aware of. This tends to put the power in the hands of these massive corporations and people who try to earn a living independently, discussing a topic they are passionate about are made obsolete.

This is terrible because it stifles creativity and fosters a closed environment where the only pundits most will hear from are from within the organisation or former players.

Coming from years of watching esports this feels silly. Some of the best commentators, analysts and content creators in esports rose through the ranks independently by doing their own thing and eventually making it to official stages after their fans made noise about them.

This is made possible by an open approach to content creation. Anybody can take a Dota game and comment on it or hop on a person’s stream and start shoutcasting without fear of an instant copyright strike. Are there instances of aggressive copyright claims in esports? Absolutely there are, but the norm is to be open and encourage community involvement.

World Rugby’s strike on Squidge Rugby’s video isn’t the only example of a sporting body being quick to attack content creators and users for making use of their content, despite that use being in a transformative manner.

In 2018, a mother received a copyright strike from FIFA after sharing a video of her seven-year-old son dancing in front of the TV on Twitter. Fans often find their videos from the FIFA World Cup removed from social platforms and this should be concerning for FIFA and other sporting bodies. Even streamers as popular as xQc weren’t immune to copyright strikes during the Olympic Games.

Media consumption has changed significantly over the decades the likes of World Rugby, FIFA and the International Olympic Committee have been around. Where once their events were broadcast on TV, viewers are now on the internet and want to be able to access games, highlights, analysis and more from the internet.

Granted, some have recognised this by joining forces with streaming partners but fan-made content doesn’t seem to be a consideration at all.

We have to wonder what the benefit of removing this fanmade content is. We understand removing pirated streams of games but transformative content that builds on existing broadcasts and helps folks understand the game better ultimately benefits the sporting body.

Truthfully, however, World Rugby, FIFA and other sporting bodies are simply behaving the way all media companies behave when it comes to their copyright and that has to change.

Both Millenials and Gen Z aren’t afraid to turn to piracy and this should concern copyright holders as it means that even if they offer a paid streaming service, some folks will just find a free way to access the content they want. Removing content from well-meaning creators will only fuel the desire to “stick it to the man” and inadvertently push fans to find illicit sources for their content needs.

The landscape is evolving rapidly and copyright holders need to recognise this. We don’t know how they adapt but they can’t avoid that adaptation because if they do, they may find content is being watched exclusively through pirated sources.

[Image – Markus Winkler on Unsplash]


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