UFC: Copyright Infringement Trigger Happy


The UFC has just recently filed yet another DMCA (copyright infringement) complaint with YouTube resulting in another video being pulled off of youtube.

This video showed two men getting in to a brawl during the UFC 159 event. A spectator recorded the confrontation with their cell phone camera. It wasn’t long until the video was taken down from YouTube due to a DMCA copyright claim from the UFC.

But what right does the UFC have to file this claim? The only object the UFC hold any rights to are the events being broadcast, their logo and maybe the octagon. The Octagon is only briefly seen in the video as it pans over to the brawl.  In addition at the time of filming the walk out song for the next fighters were being played but the copyright claim for that music could only be made by the respective labels, not the UFC.

It seems fairly obvious the UFC didn’t like the PR message that was being sent by audience members engaging in a brawl of their own at an already hotly debated form of combat sport (UFC MMA).  However the legality of their claim is dubious at best.  Many times fans of sporting events have captured riots and other such results of confrontations at public events like a Football, Soccer or Basketball game and none of those organizations have gone to any great length to censor the content of those events outside of their own video broadcast systems.


This latest attempt, however, is only one in a series of moves the UFC has made in what can be considered a cat and mouse game between the UFC and exuberant fans looking to share a unique look at the life of MMA behind and around the Octagon.  Just last month a similar attempt at censorship was made with a video of Nick Diaz and one of Zuffa’s senior legal counsels as they discussed a ‘special rule’ that the Ontario Athletic Commission applies to weigh-ins prior to the UFC 158 event.

The complaint was challenged by the original poster of the video and after further review the UFC’s claim was rejected by YouTube and the video reinstated on the site.

Taking a look at an excerpt from the DMCA, section 107 on Limitations on Exclusive Rights: Fair Use:

Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.

Even if there was substantial content that was owned by the UFC under the DMCA the producer of this video could claim that it was an attempt at news reporting. With the additional legalities, being so evident, under the First Amendment with respect to freedom of speech, one would imagine the UFC’s attorneys might express a bit more caution before arbitrarily claiming DMCA violations against anything implying a negative view of the UFC or it’s events.

To record a fight and publish it online for free in an attempt to circumvent the UFC’s legal right to control distribution of it’s content (that being the fights and other associated productions) would constitute a breach of the DMCA fair use, however a passing view of the octagon or even the UFC logo in a legitimate attempt to broadcast news from a public gathering beings to stretch the limits of the legal imagination.

The primary matter at hand here is that conflict is natural.  We cannot insulate people from it and it would be entirely counter productive for an organization that makes a sport of extreme physical conflict to wish to censor every conflicting message with theirs from public view.  If anything, they should embrace conflict and competition of both opinion, thought and the physical body.

Cameras and computers are already banned from UFC events for non press members, but considering that everyone carries a cell phone with a camera and what is an by many valid technology standards a full blown computer what does the UFC plan to do going forward?  Ban any type of cellular communications device from the event?  The use of personal communications devices have become more of a right than a privilege in free society.  The use of cell phones are now even being considered applicable, safe and legal under Federal Aviation laws.  Especially considering Cell Phones were used as the only means for family members to say goodbye to loved ones in the tragic events of September 11th 2001.  How can we expect to take the right of someone to communicate with a family member during an emergency?  Especially when the communications costs and device are paid for by the user.

Regardless of the legalities, even if the UFC wishes to go this route and ban mobile devices from the events, they may run into very real logistical and technical challenges in doing so.  Many people are beginning to use cell phones as a means of payment with the advent of NFC and now in California it is legal to show proof of insurance with simply a snapshot of the insurance card on a smart phone when pulled over for a traffic violation.  While on the same token the advent of technologies like Google Glass have inspired law makers to rush to action in banning use in certain scenarios.  Is this the right thing for to do to protect the public?

The world is now mobile and so is information.  At SciFighting we recommend any organization or state body considering such attempts to micro manage the flow of communications among the public to reevaluate the cost versus benefit and even the logistical feasibility of such an endeavor.