Sports fans roil Twitter after it pulls accounts due to copyright complaints over highlight videos

Online video and animated clips that highlight specific sports plays continue to occupy a gray area in the social media world, but their usage came to the fore again this week when Twitter suspended two popular accounts over their posting of football clips.

Gawker-owned account @Deadspin and Vox-owned account @SBNationGIF were both suspended by Twitter following complaints by several major sports leagues including the NFL, UFC, the Big 12 and SEC. The popular accounts routinely post either six-second looping Vines or GIF animations of play highlights during games and fights.

After temporarily posting via Keith Olbermann's Twitter account, @deadspin was able to regain its status on Twitter after appealing to the social media site. However, @SBNationGIF remained offline at midday Tuesday.

The NFL said in a statement that while it did ask Twitter to disable links to at least 12 pirated game videos, it did not ask the site to suspend any accounts, the New York Times reported.

Still, some were skeptical about the NFL's claim that it didn't have a hand in shutting down the accounts. A Gawker Media managing editor tweeted that the copyright complaints, according to the notice they received from Twitter, indicated they came from the league. And a separate op-ed said that the NFL has much more restrictive video rights than other leagues.

"MLB has at least shown some forward-thinking behavior in making videos available on their website and YouTube embeddable and utilizing GIFs on social media.  The NFL does none of that. You'd have better luck figuring out what constitutes a catch in the NFL than finding a decent shareable video," said Matt Yoder of Awful Announcing.

Vox Media told DigiDay that SB Nation only uses sports footage when it either has the license to do so, or when it is allowed to under fair use.

Still, the suspension highlights the fact that both sides clearly don't agree on what constitutes fair use, which gives publishers and creators limited use of others' copyrighted works if the purpose is for commentary, reporting or parody. Complicating the issue is that sports highlights are probably the most valuable parts of a game, and can net publishers quite a bit of ad revenue around views of the video clips, DigiDay said.  

For more:
- see this New York Times article (tiered sub.)
- see this Awful Announcing op-ed
- see this DigiDay article

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