The NFL’s copyright notice: when brand protection goes way over the line

American football isn’t well-followed in New Zealand. The bulk of reporting on the Superbowl, for example, focuses almost entirely on the half-time show and the cost of the advertisements.

But as more and more Kiwis sit down to watch a bit of “that damned stop-start game where they have to keep huddling all the time” I wonder how many raise an eyebrow at the really, really strict copyright/trademark notice which plays before every game:


Even Americans I follow on Twitter were wondering about this yesterday – I mean, did the NFL really say that their copyright covers descriptions and accounts of the game? Were they going to file injunctions against the entirety of Twitter?

Turns out it’s one of those big scary legal plays which big scary companies make … which don’t really have a lot of teeth:

You can record the Super Bowl. … If you want to use clips for commentary or criticism or news reporting of some aspect of the game or the broadcast, that’s perfectly legal, too.

But the NFL has been using that disclaimer, or some form of it—basically miseducating America about copyright law—for years. Some years ago, one group actually complained about the broadcastof these falsehoods to the Federal Trade Commission, but didn’t get too far.

In fact, the NFL has overreached so far on this in the past that when copyright professor Wendy Seltzer posted a video clip of that very disclaimer in order to critique it, the NFL sent a takedown notice to remove the clip from YouTube.

If only the NFL put the same overbearing litigiousness into stamping out domestic violence and sexual assault amongst its star players …