Madison Blinn, a student in Jon Pfeiffer’s Fall 2014 Mass Communication Law class at Pepperdine University, wrote the following essay in response to the prompt: “'Any other use of this telecast or any pictures, descriptions, or accounts of the game without the NFL's consent is prohibited'… This warning accompanies any NFL telecast. The language suggests that the NFL can copyright not only its own footage, but also the game itself. For his birthday, Troy received an aerial camera drone, equipped with live viewing and iPhone control. Because of the cost of the drone, his family couldn’t afford NFL Ticket. Troy is a die-hard San Diego Chargers fan. To watch the games, Troy flew his drone above the stadium and watched from home. Does the NFL have a viable copyright claim against Troy? Do the San Diego Chargers? Discuss only copyright issues.”
Although the NFL warns that use of any “pictures, descriptions, or accounts of the game without the NFL’s consent is prohibited,” they do not have a viable copyright claim against Troy. Troy is not profiting off of his feed, and his feed could include any other material at the game, such as footage of the stands or the fans, that is not a part of the game. If the NFL were to claim that Troy was in violation of NFL’s copyright, as it falls under “pictures” or “accounts” of the game, then anybody who were to Instagram the stadium or text a photo of them at the game would also be in violation. Moreover, any Twitter or Facebook posts about the game’s status would be a violation, as they are a description of the game, and to what end is this to be upheld? Can spectators at the game not talk about it with their coworkers the next day? Can the players themselves not go home and tell their families the final score?
I cannot speak to the San Diego Chargers themselves, as they are not granted any ownership by the NFL over the game or the feed as far as this specific clause goes, but, as it would seem, the NFL’s strict copyright laws would then deny even the Chargers themselves to have any ownership of photographs or game stats; therefore they would have no copyright claim against Troy either.
Troy is an interesting case – although he does not make a profit off his feed, he does evade the ticket price, but within these terms, everyone receiving Twitter or Facebook updates about the game also evade the ticket price, learning about the game’s details on their own accord.
Because Troy did not take anything from the NFL, because Troy used his own equipment to view the game, it would be the same as if he were standing on a nearby hill, peering down into the stadium. The NFL does not have the right to claim ownership of every conversation, every description of the game, thus the NFL’s claim would be invalid.
Madison Blinn is a senior at Pepperdine University majoring in creative writing and Media Production.
Jon Pfeiffer is an experienced entertainment and copyright trial attorney practicing in Santa Monica. Jon is also an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California where he teaches Media Law. COM 570 covers First Amendment issues as well as copyright, defamation and privacy.