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Goals and football’s intellectual property

Adam Rooney

Vine clips on social media are of concern to the SPFL

In recent weeks, both the Premier League in England and the SPFL have voiced their concerns over the use of social media to post short videos of goals as they happen. The use of Vine – a mobile app that allows users to record short videos and post them on social media channels – is of concern to football’s domestic leagues as they look to protect their product. Considering the significant amounts that leagues make from lucrative broadcast deals, this is certainly understandable – not to mention the emergence of on-demand mobile highlight services from media outlets such as The Sun and The Times.

 
Whereas the matter of intellectual property and protecting ones’ business is entirely fair and understandable, the real problem arises when considering how such an issue can be policed, without infringing on the supporters’ match day experience. After all, to what extent does the concern of the Premier League and the SPFL extend – protecting goals as arguably football’s greatest on field commodity makes perfect sense – but what of a brief passage of play, a few passes culminating in a shot over the bar? Does that merit the same level of concern as an eye-catching goal, or even a red card offence of violent conduct? After all, goals and excitement is what fans want to see and there is no market for Vines of build-up play or routine yellow cards.

 
It is also worth considering what fans are allowed to record. A significant amount of football fans take mobile phones and tablets to matches these days. As well as footage of goals and other important incidents, many will record pre and post-match scenes, as well as copious amounts of photos throughout the day’s proceedings. From a technical standpoint, any recorded footage that is posted on social media platforms could potentially infringe on a league’s intellectual property, regardless of the context of the video itself.
The most pressing matter of course is how this can be enforced. Stewards and police surely cannot extend their remit on match days to restricting the use of recording devices. Trying to keep tabs on several thousand fans at once – who may or may not be using their mobile phones to record – is an almost impossible task. Manchester United recently introduced a ban on mobile devices over a certain size, though it is difficult to believe this is directly related to the recording and posting of game footage than just seeing tablets etc. as a nuisance.

 

Vine logo

Non-HD and poor quality…but free

 
Twitter themselves actually prohibit the posting of material on their website that violates third party copyright laws, though a quick scan of the social media platform can yield hundreds of Vine football clips within a matter of seconds. Considering Twitter has over 270 million active users, controlling the content posted would be a mammoth task even for an organisation as successful as Twitter. Video streaming website YouTube has had much greater success in restricting the posting of football highlights on their site, though any football aficionado will be well versed in the plethora of available alternatives for the football fix.

 
Whilst the issue of rights and the price paid to acquire them is key in this debate, it is worth considering where the Premier League and SPFL’s priorities should lie. Whilst not dismissing their concerns at the broadcast rights violation that Vine allows, the extreme difficulty in policing such a matter is prohibitive to ensuring 100% protection of their intellectual property. It would very surprising if the rise of short, grainy footage of goals was impacting on subscription fees and the use of each leagues own respective media channels online. When analysing the league table of issues that threaten the SPFL and Premier League’s business model, Vines and the low-key copyright infringement that they conjure up should really be languishing near the relegation zone.

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