Football League cries foul against BBC presenter

15 April, 2009

The BBC’s technology correspondent, Rory Cellan-Jones, has been Twittering and blogging about YouTube’s removal of a video which he posted on the site.

The video was a 37-second clip of last weekend’s Brentford v Exeter City football match, which Cellan-Jones had taken on his new digital camera. It seems the Football League filed a complaint with YouTube alleging that the clip infringed copyright. YouTube responded by promptly taking down the video and threatening Cellan-Jones’s account with closure if he offended again.

Now it seems to me to be absurd to suggest that Cellan-Jones was infringing “copyright”. There is no copyright in a football match. As for the video footage, Cellan-Jones took this himself using his own camera. As this was (I assume) not in the course of his duties as a BBC employee, he is the owner of the copyright in that footage, not the Football League.

Could the football club (or the Football League) acquire the copyright under the terms and conditions for entry to the match? No: copyright (or future copyright in a prospective work) can only be assigned by an agreement in writing, signed by or on behalf of the copyright owner (ss.90 & 91 Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988). So Cellan-Jones remains the owner of the copyright in the footage he took with his camera.

I haven’t been able to access Brentford FC’s ticket conditions, but I assume that (like those for fellow League Two team Leeds United (PDF)) they prohibit the use of video equipment within the ground. Hence – assuming Cellan-Jones bought the tickets himself – he was in breach of his contract with Brentford FC by using his camera. However, that does not give the Football League a basis for claiming under YouTube’s copyright notification procedures.

So, on the face of it, this looks like a spurious claim by the Football League: an example of how automatic detection and notification of alleged copyright infringements can lead to “false positives”. As a result, Cellan-Jones (having had a previous copyright notification) now faces the automatic closure of his YouTube account should a third “infringement” occur. Given that he’s unlikely to want to spend money consulting lawyers on an issue like this, his only practical recourse – other than writing a blog post on one of the world’s most high-profile websites! – may be to check out YouTube’s counter-notice provisions and decide whether he wishes to follow this rather formal (and far from risk-free) procedure.

Still, perhaps Cellan-Jones should count himself lucky. If those lobbying for a “three strikes” law for ISPs were to have their way, people in his position in future could even face the loss of their internet access.