Who owns online video?

I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while and now seems an appropriate time to do so.  It’s unfortunate that the stimulus is a horrendous crash at the Daytona Speedway in Florida on the day before the famous 500, and my thoughts are with all those involved.

Video is without doubt the hottest properties in social media.  It’s growing exponentially and will continue to do so in the coming years, whether it is so-called ‘citizen journalism’ aired by news organizations to break stories or add colour, videos created by brands or their fans and posted online via sites like YouTube, MetaCafe or DailyMotion, or short videos shot on cell phones using apps like Vine.  If, as we’re told, a picture tells a thousand words then video is worth… well, you get the point.  One of the biggest challenges – as highlighted today by video shot by fans at the Daytona Raceway of a crash involving around 12 cars and which resulted in debris landing in the grandstand – is who owns the rights to that video.

Reports on twitter suggest that video posted to YouTube by fans has been removed on copyright grounds.  It’s unclear whether this is part of an ongoing agreement between the channel and NASCAR that automatically removes anything relating to the sport’s governing body or as a direct request.  [Note: at the time of writing I checked YouTube and some videos of Daytona – both of previous years’ races and today’s crash remain on the site.  I did not find any of the debris in the grandstand after a brief search but there may be some.  Mainstream media is showing some video of the accident and photographs of the debris at this time].  Whatever the specifics it raises issues that every PR, marketing and social media team needs to consider.

Brands are encouraging fans to share videos that support its products and services but what do they do when something like this happens.  Where does a brand draw the line when it comes to events that are being broadcast on mainstream media channels or streamed online to paying subscribers?  What constitutes brand fanning and what impinges on the rights of mainstream media?  What happens when a tragedy like today’s crash at Daytona happens?

I don’t have the answers – there is no one-size-fits all solution that can be applied to every  organization or situation.  Each organization needs, however, to have a policy – and a plan for crisis management – and apply it uniformly.  It’s a conversation that involves PR, marketing and social media teams, commercial broadcast partners, event partners – like the Daytona Motor Speedway – and their respective lawyers.

My biggest concern with events like those at Daytona is that video – and reports – collected from members of the public needs to be treated with caution because, while it tells a story of what the individual experienced, it may not necessarily tell the whole story.  Context is a critical in cases of citizen journalism – but that’s a whole other conversation for another day.

Update: 8pm ET

ESPN is sharing, via Twitter, a statement issued by NASCAR and attributed to SVP and  Chief Marketing Officer Steve Phelps explaining that the organization took steps to block fan videos on YouTube because the severity of the situation was unknown and out of respect to those involved.  It has been met with mixed reactions from some on Twitter.

As a marketeer and PR guy I can understand why NASCAR would adopt this position.  I have not seen the censored videos, but would have had somebody monitoring anything uploaded to social channels so that a decision could be taken on each one individually.  No doubt NASCAR has a crisis communications plan, but this demonstrates how even the best laid plans can be tested in an era of real-time communications.  We’re all learning as we go and anybody that tells you otherwise should be treated with caution.

Update: 9am Sunday 24th

The videos have, it would appear, now been published by YouTube.

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