There's an old video, which is now impossible to find online, of Joe Torre absolutely losing his freaking mind. It's from back in the '80s, when Torre was managing the Atlanta Braves, and appeared to be part of a film-stock documentary about the Braves and then-owner Ted Turner. (Here's a rather lunatic, Seth MacFarlane-esque clip of Turner from the film.) It has been roughly six years since I saw the clip of Torre, but from what I remember (and from what I wrote at the time), it basically featured a solid 90 seconds of terrifying, almost primal vulgarity from Torre at an umpire, who, bizarrely, refuses to throw him out. It's Torre like you've never seen him: He basically curses like a sailor. With Tourette's. In a Quentin Tarantino movie.
And it's Torre like you'll never see him: Back in 2006, within a day of the clip being posted on YouTube, and me pointing it out on Deadspin, MLB Advanced Media forced YouTube to take it down. (I remind you at this point that MLBAM is part-owner of this site, which makes me feel a little sheepish to send them to the post where I yelled at them about forcing the clip offline.) I'm still not sure why MLBAM had the copyright authority to pull down the clip back then (it wasn't from a broadcast of the game, and it wasn't from a video produced by MLB), but I was reminded of their, and many other sports leagues' digital arms, iron fist on online video content this weekend after that awful NASCAR crash at Daytona. And for the first time, I saw a potential opening.
For those who missed it, in the wake of the horrifying crash that left multiple spectators hurt, one of those spectators posted video from the impact. You can actually see the man who takes off his shirt to use as a tourniquet to help an injured spectator, captured in photos here, and you can even see the car's tire. It's a vivid, shocking video that's pretty much the definition of news, and NASCAR, like so many leagues before them, made YouTube take it down.
But then something unusual happened: YouTube fought back. After the original poster -- who handled the whole situation with grace and class -- complained that the video wasn't a copyright infringement, YouTube actually agreed, and reinstated it. Later, NASCAR would claim that it just asked YouTube to take down the video out of respect for the injured fans, a statement belied by both the error message you received when you tried to watch the video and NASCAR's rights policy, printed right on its tickets, that says it owns all media from every event it hosts. Actually, they don't use the word "media." They say they own "images, sounds and data."
It's a particularly Orwellian concept to "own data," and it's one that a copyright lawyer told Poynter they don't actually have much legal standing for. But that often hasn't mattered before, at least when it came to YouTube; when any league, or any corporation really, made any sort of complaint, YouTube and owner Google -- perpetually on that copyright fringe and thusly nervous-- would just take it down, regardless, no questions asked.
This has led to a policing of the site (which is still the primary video provider for most people, despite sites like Vimeo) that is done almost entirely by people who have a vested financial interest in the matter, rather than an interest in what's actually legal or fair. It's almost a microcosm of the legal system itself -- individuals must go up against corporations and their lawyerin' minions to win any complaint, which few of us have the time or money to even try. And the policing seems arbitrary, based on content more than legal standing. For instance, a compilation video of reactions to David Freese's triple in the 2011 World Series was taken down because of the same vague "own data" notions that NASCAR was trying, but there are of course tens of thousands of from-the-stands videos online. (Note that when that particular video was taken down, MLB was showing a variation of it on the Jumbotron at a Cardinals game.) It's not that MLB and NASCAR and the NFL (which is probably the worst offender at this, giving embedded videos in large part only to corporate partners like Yahoo) are inherently wrong or right, it's just that there hasn't been a legitimate public discussion on any of it. YouTube just takes things down because these leagues ask.
Now, the NASCAR video won't suddenly just change everything. This was a special case with obvious public news value, and, frankly, NASCAR screwed up so much in response to the crash over the weekend that this is fairly low on the list. But it is significant. What exactly do these sports leagues own from an event? If I take a video of the player intro at the Knicks game Wednesday night and put it on YouTube, am I doing something wrong? Or are they doing something wrong by taking it down? The Internet sometimes feels like nothing but a set of unanswerable copyright questions, but this is one I've always been eager to have resolved, once and for all. YouTube, in taking a stand that's ostensibly the opposite of NASCAR's, opened that door this weekend. I don't know what the legal answer to this is. But I want to find out. Now let's see what happens. Because honestly: You really gotta hear Joe Torre in that video.
By the way, I give so much money to MLBAM every year that I'm pretty sure I'm sort of writing all these columns for free. Remember, this column is meant as a valve, a release, for when you're yelling at your television during games, or, after reading a particular column, you're pounding your fists into your computer. Obviously, I'll need your help to do that. Anything you want me to write about, let me know, through email or Twitter. I am at your beck and call.