The Real Story Behind Twitter’s Deadspin Take-Down Over Animated NFL Gifs

Twitter briefly disabled the account of the Gawker-owned sports blog Deadspin late Monday afternoon as a reaction to numerous copyright take-down requests from the NFL. Twitter went on to reinstate Deadspin’s account a few hours later, but the action prompted a heated debate about copyright and fair use, with internet users and even celebrities like Keith Olberman rushing to Deadspin’s defense.

Many mused that a deal Twitter struck with the NFL earlier this year may have been behind the company’s decision to disable Deadspin’s account. However, the reality seems a lot more prosaic.

The account in question disappeared from Twitter some time Monday afternoon. Soon after, Gawker’s managing editor Lacey Donohue took to Twitter to say the take-down seemed to related to the NFL, and Gawker’s social media expert Terron Moore told reporters that the NFL sent Twitter 18 DMCA take-down notices over animated Gifs of NFL game highlights.

An NFL spokesperson confirmed that the league sent those take-down notices when contacted by Variety, but said that it didn’t request the removal of the account: “The NFL sent routine notices as part of its copyright enforcement program requesting that Twitter disable links to more than a dozen pirated NFL game videos and highlights that violate the NFL’s copyrights. We did not request that any Twitter account be suspended,” she said via email.

A Twitter spokesperson told Variety that the company doesn’t comment on specific take-down requests, and instead pointed Variety to Twitter’s Terms of Service, which state that “Twitter will (…) terminate a user’s account if the user is determined to be a repeat infringer.”

The removal of the account immediately led to an emotional discussion about copyright and fair use on Twitter, with some musing that a deal Twitter struck with the NFL his summer may have prompted the company to remove Deadspin’s account. Celebrity sportscaster and political pundit Keith Olbermann even went as far as to threaten to leave Twitter over the affair. Olbermann went on to hand over his Twitter account to Deadspin’s editors, who went on to use his account to tweet to their stories.

However, it looks like the take-down was a bit less nefarious than some may assume. Variety got its hands on one of the take-down notices sent to Twitter, which turns out isn’t coming directly from the NFL. Instead, it got sent by NetResult Solutions, a London-based copyright infringement company owned by Thomson Reuters that got hired by the league to scour the internet for what it deems infringing content.

Twitter then went on to disable the account, likely prompted by the amount of notices sent. A Twitter spokesperson wasn’t immediately available to explain whether these steps are automated or not.

Still, the whole episode raises bigger questions on whether short excerpts of videos, or animated Gifs that feature sports game highlights but no sound, are infringement, or covered by fair use. Sports leagues would like to argue that they own the rights for even for small excerpts,  but publishers like Gawker routinely argue that they have the right to republish these clips without permission.

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