Oscars Live Streaming: Copyright Infringement or Fair Use?

An Oscars live stream that played simultaneously at the same time as the actual of the Oscars on ABC Sunday night was immediately interrupted and shutdown after ABC sent YouTube a copyright infringement takedown request.

BlazeTV Claims Oscars Live Streaming During Ceremony Was Fair Use

BlazeTV host Steven Crowder was hosting an Oscars live stream on YouTube where he provided voiceover commentary of the event and invited viewers to comment on the ceremony as well when the interruption unexpectedly occurred.  Both Crowder and the ABC broadcast began at 8:00PM EST, and by 8:43PM, Crowder had tweeted that his stream had been discontinued by YouTube.  While Crowder was able to resume his Oscars live stream via Facebook’s live streaming platform, Crowder cited that ABC was unfairly abusing copyright law by improperly claiming copyright infringement to have his cast pulled down.

At the time that Crowder’s cast was interrupted, Crowder’s was pulling in almost 40,000 viewers, which was almost four times the viewers that ABC’s own Oscars live stream had.  Crowder has mused that ABC’s decision to have his stream removed was a calculated move and potentially petty as he had been able to stream last year’s event without any issue.

ABC Prohibits Oscars Live Streaming During Telecast

ABC states that it has long had legal protection in place that prohibits the use of any part of the Oscars while the telecast is in progress. Despite this, Crowder still argues, however, that his use of the Oscars telecast falls under fair use because it is not only transformative but also qualifies as critique and commentary of the original work.  He explains that his Oscars live stream is transformative as the original work was only shown at a fraction of its original size, in a small corner of his live stream.

Fair use is a common affirmative defense but its exact qualifications are often difficult to nail down.  Generally, in determining whether a work constitutes fair use, courts will consider four main factors: 1) the purpose and character of the use (particularly whether the use is commercial or educational); 2) the nature of the copyrighted work; 3) the amount or portion of the original work used in comparison to the allegedly-infringing work; 4) the effect of the use upon the market for the original work.

The Future of Live Streaming

As live streaming becomes more and more popular, issues like this are more likely to crop up. Currently, it is not uncommon for streaming platforms like YouTube to acquiesce to the party with more “brand recognition” (i.e., ABC) as these issues are relatively new.  But with each new day, the public at large becomes more acquainted with live streams as other brands like the NFL and UFC commonly live stream their events via the Internet.

Interestingly, while currently unconfirmed, it appears that ABC was unable to get Facebook to acquiesce to their takedown request of Crowder’s Oscars live stream. So, it is likely that Crowder will attempt to live stream his Oscars commentary again next year. It will be interesting to see how the legal landscape has changed by then.

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