What happens when an embarrassing clip about a local television station goes viral and the station wants to stop it?
When the KTVU Fox News Affiliate botched the names of the Asiana Flight 214 pilots, the video of the broadcast quickly went viral – collecting millions of views as multiple copies of the video appeared on YouTube. The local news affiliate then tried to pull the plug on the content by invoking the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) in an effort to force YouTube to remove the videos.
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act is a powerful tool for content owners, often used to protect copyrighted material from becoming pirated. However, in this instance the news organization admitted that copyright claims weren’t the reason for employing the DMCA at all. KTVU station manager and vice president Tom Raponi told Mediabistro the reason for exerting the copyright claim was to take responsibility for and end the “thoughtless repetition of the video by others” as a way of apologizing to those who found the clip insensitive and offensive.
The move was met with criticism from the Electronic Frontier Foundation as well as the broader media blogosphere, who viewed the action as a stretch of the US copyright law that the DMCA may allow but that it was never meant to cover – as well as being acutely out of step for a news organization meant to be a “bastion of democratic discourse.”
This isn’t the first time a news organization has employed the DMCA to pull potentially-embarrassing content offline. Last month, NBC Universal cited the DMCA in an attempt to remove a clip from Senator Elizabeth Warren’s YouTube page.
The use of the DMCA has not been successful for these news organizations; both instances evoke the so-called Streisand Effect, whereby the organizations find themselves generating more attention to their foibles in the process of trying to get content taken down. But more generally these situations also highlight the powerful abilities granted to copyright owners under the DMCA to selectively exercise control over the content that is allowed to exist online.