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NASCAR explains wreck-video blockage

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On Saturday afternoon, a crash at a Nationwide Series race at Daytona International Speedway injured at least 30 NASCAR fans. As the media swarmed the scene and questioned authorities on the fallout, a secondary story line emerged: NASCAR had blocked a harrowing video taken by fan — one Tyler Anderson — showing the impact of the crash from the stands. When YouTube users tried to access the footage, this is the readout they received: “This video contains content from NASCAR, who has blocked it on copyright grounds.”

Not for long, however. That night, YouTube reinstated the video on the grounds that it was not “copyright infringing.”

In an interview Tuesday afternoon, NASCAR Vice President of Digital Media Marc Jenkins made clear one point: “This was never a copyright issue for us,” he said. Nor was it a censorship issue. The matter related to the fans involved in the incident. “We blocked it out of respect for those injured,” says Jenkins. “What we saw was that it appeared someone was injured by the tire and and it was unclear at the time what the status of the fan was,” he noted, adding that the step was taken out of “caution” and in deference to “human dignity.”

That the blockage showed up on YouTube as a copyright matter was a matter of mechanics. YouTube provides a procedure for people to request blockage on copyright grounds, and that’s what NASCAR used; it didn’t have any discussions with YouTube prior to taking that action, said Jenkins.

Whatever the motivations for the blockage, it marked a detour of sorts for NASCAR. As Jenkins explained, NASCAR owns the rights to video shot at the track but “we don’t enforce the guidelines unless the content is used commercially. … We do proactively go after pirated video of the television broadcast, but that’s the only time we use it.” On the non-commercial front, he says, “We encourage our fans to take those videos and to send them out on Facebook or to tweet’em out … We’ve partnered with Twitter in the past. Our sport is based on, and one of our great attributes is — it’s open and easy to interact with us.”

It’s this very embrace of social media that prompted commentator Staci D. Kramer to remark, “If you want the boost from social media, need to take it all.”

Given NASCAR’s steepedness in the Internet, why get into the business of trying to suppress a fan video? “This was a very quick decision in a fluid time, where we knew that a tragedy had occurred and weren’t clear on the status of those fans. We encourage fans generally to take videos at the track and share them.”

There’s indeed a disconnect between encouraging fan vids and blocking one that shows an unpleasant aspect of NASCAR fandom — a disconnect that goes a long way toward explaining Web-based opposition to NASCAR’s bid for video suppression. Would the organization have pursued the same strategy if it had foreseen the reaction? “I’ll tell you, it’s hard to answer that kind of hypothetical,” said Jenkins.

Decoded, Jenkins’s words mean that NASCAR won’t say that it erred in blocking the video. But credit him and his organization for openness: From the start, NASCAR’s PR shop responded quickly to requests from the Erik Wemple Blog on the incident.

Note: Try this piece by Mathew Ingram of on the copyright dimensions of the NASCAR vid.