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Media copyright at Rio 2016: Is banning GIFs and Vines even legal?

by | Aug 11, 2016 | Entertainment, Media, Public Relations, Sports

The London Olympics of 2012 were not only highly televised – some of its best moments were captured in GIFs.

(GIF from Buzzfeed)

China’s Liu Xiang hop to the finish line after injuring himself was rated by Buzzfeed as one of “the best GIFs of the London Olympics.”

Understandably, fans were upset to recently learn that news outlets are banned from producing GIFs of the Rio Olympics. According to the international Olympic Committee’s updated rule book, “The use of Olympic Material transformed into graphic animated formats such as animated GIFs (ie GIFV), GFY, WebM, or short video formats such as Vines and others, is expressly prohibited.”

The new ban on GIFs is an effort to protect broadcasters whom with the IOC has agreements. Broadcasters such as NBC fork out large sums of money (it reportedly paid $1.2 Billion) for exclusive rights, and these companies worry that ubiquitous GIFs could bleed attention away from their own content.

While these concerns may be founded, it’s unclear if the IOC actually has the right to ban GIFs.

“I don’t want to say anything too determinative, but on the face of it, it strikes me as being at odds with fair use (US) and fair dealing (Canada), and especially in Canada in relation to the new ‘user generated content’ right established by the new Copyright Modernization Act,” said Carleton University communications studies professor and copyright expert Dwayne Winseck, in an interview.

Winseck said this act “allows people to use snippets of content  for non-commercial reasons as a fair means of expression, while in both the US and Canada long established fair use and fair dealing rights allow people to use portions of material freely with attribution but without restrictions for purposes of news, criticism, public commentary.”

So assuming the GIFs created will be used for news or public commentary news outlets should be within their rights in creating them, Winseck said, adding that under copyright law in Canada and the US, the creation of GIFs should be guaranteed regardless of who originally paid for content rights.

Copyright expert Giuseppina D’Agostino similarly told The Star that legally the IOC can do little to stop fans from posting GIFs of the Olympics. She is quoted as saying, “you can legislate all you want but at the end of the day if people are not going to obey by your rules…you’re going to have an uphill battle.”

It has perhaps created an opportunity for some enterprising Twitter users:

Either way, the IOC’s move is not unprecedented. Two years ago, the English Premier League announced a ban on GIFs and Vines of game action.

And a pair of sports websites like SBNation and Deadspin had their Twitter accounts suspended last year after posting Vines of NFL, UFC and NCAA content.

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Chantelle Brule
After receiving her Master's in Communications from Carleton University, Chantelle brought her research experience to Agility's Media Insights team as a data analyst. She's particularly good at what she does.

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