TV Station Uses Copyright Law to Get Gaffe Removed


A San Francisco-area television station invoked the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to remove an embarrassing clip from the Internet.

It’s getting a little harder to find clips of Oakland, California, Fox Affiliate KTVU-TV’s airing of incorrect names following the Asiana Airlines crash at San Francisco International Airport.

That’s because the station, which was apparently pranked into airing names some see as racially-insensitive (and that others simply see as silly puns). Those names included plays on words like “Sum Ding Wong” (as in “something’s wrong”).

As soon as the incident happened, clips of it began popping up on YouTube and elsewhere. People were only too happy to lampoon the station. Clips of the station’s subsequent apologies — at least two that I know of — also hit the net.

But KTVU is invoking the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to petition sites like YouTube to remove the clips. They can do that, after all. They own the clips because they own the copyright.

There’s far too much of a tendency these days to assume that when something is broadcast, it’s ours to do with as we please. The same goes for music. People who’ve been successfully sued by the music industry on copyright infringement grounds quickly learn who owns what.

Is it any surprise — should it be a surprise? — that a copyright holder would want to remove embarrassing and potentially-offensive material associated with it from public view? Particularly if that copyright holder is accused of being racially-insensitive to a race of people with a relatively high presence in their home market?

It shouldn’t be.

Some of those clips are now replaced with YouTube’s crooked frown icon and the grammatically-incorrect message, “This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by KTVU.” (It should read, “This video is no longer available because of a copyright claim by KTVU.”)

The station’s general manager told MediaBistro that by now, most people have seen the clip, anyway.

“Consistent with our apology, we are carrying through on our responsibility to minimize the thoughtless repetition of the video by others,” he added.

Media Blog FTVLive isn’t buying it:

“It’s a gutless move by a station trying to cover up their mistake. You can also bet if the video was one of their Reporter’s [sic] doing something extraordinary, the video would still be online.”

Now I’m in a quandry: which grammar mistake ticks me off more: yet another instance of the improper use of due to or the incorrect use of an apostrophe to make something plural. It’s a pickle, I tell you.

To FTVLive’s point, if it were a clip of one of the station’s on-air personalities doing something well, of course it’d still be online. Not only would it still be online, but you could bet the station would be promoting it in its newscasts, hoping more people would watch!

But either way, KTVU owns the copyright. So that’s their call, not ours. It’s their right to decide what clips they want showcased and which clips they’d like removed.

And can you really “cover up a mistake” everyone already knows you made?

What do you think? Should the station fight to remove the clips, or does it have an obligation, after apologizing for the mistake, to remove it so as not to further offend anyone?


  1. Obviously they’re entirely within their rights to request that those videos be taken down. Whether those requests should be upheld, on the other hand, depends on the case, as pointed out by a previous commenter.
    However, as a Regular Joe, their attempts to remove them really leaves a bad taste in my mouth, because I know they’re just using the copyright excuse for the purpose of PR damage control – or, if they’re not, they are woefully unfamiliar with how the Internet works.

  2. MatthewKeysLive Thanks for dropping by, Matthew. I appreciate the comment! Congrats on winning the Fair Use fight.

  3. “But either way, KTVUownsthe copyright. So that’stheircall, not ours. It’s theirrightto decide what clips they want showcased and which clips they’d like removed.”
    Not quite. You see, there are a lot of news organizations that embedded those YouTube clips — mine included. Those news organizations can claim fair use (17 USC 107 of the U.S. copyright code) as the clip is presented for purposes of comment, criticism and news reporting.
    It’s a technique television stations — including KTVU — use *all the time.* They pull from YouTube, courtesy the user (or, in some cases, courtesy YouTube) and claim fair use as they are describing certain newsworthy events in a clip.
    The blog I write for, The Desk, uploaded two version of the KTVU gaffe to YouTube for use on the blog. Both of those clips were removed after KTVU issued the copyright infringement notice, which I wrote about on Saturday (and which was picked up two days later by FTVLive, CNET, MediaBistro, Wired, you name it). 
    I fought KTVU’s copyright claim. And won. Both videos were restored Tuesday evening. If KTVU wants to press the issue, they’ll now have to file a civil lawsuit against me. Several copyright lawyers have told me that would not be in the station’s interest since I have a clear cut case of fair use, but hey, if they want to try…
    The fact is, the gaffe is a newsworthy event, and individuals absolutely have the right to use it for purposes of comment, criticism and news reporting. YouTube offers a platform not only to host the video, but to deliver criticism and opinion through comments. Thus, anyone who uploads the clip to YouTube under that premise absolutely has a right to use it — just as KTVU has the right to use a YouTube clip of a newsworthy event for their news broadcast.
    That’s not their call. It’s not our call. It’s the law.

    1. ProducerMatthew Matthew, Thanks for your comment. You make an excellent argument for Fair Use, which I don’t dispute at all. 
      My point was far more simple: as the original copyright holder, it IS their right to demand that the clips be taken down. That part, Fair Use notwithstanding, REMAINS their call. I wonder how many people might have been willing to go to the effort to fight that claim with a counter-response as you did, the same way I wonder how many people might just pay an additional fee on a credit card bill rather than making the effort to call and complain about it. The general public, I would suggest, isn’t as well-versed on copyright law.
      The fact that YouTube was willing to reinstate the video doesn’t change the fact that, at least temporarily, the ball was in KTVU’s court in terms of challenging the use of their copyrighted material. That’s why the video was removed in the first place. I wonder how many others who uploaded a version of the clip would even bother fighting it. I’d love to see some stats on that.
      While I’m sure there must be plenty, off the top of my head, I can’t think of another case from anyone I know of a successful copyright counter-claim on YouTube. Congratulations.

  4. I don’t think they should pull the video because I worry about the “Fair Use” exception to the copyright laws. The video clip identified the copyright holder, it wasn’t used in a commercial enterprise (It is free for any viewer), it wasn’t the whole news program but a portion substantially less than the whole show and it didn’t substantially damage the value of the copyright holder (I doubt that their stock value changed over this or that they are getting less for their commercials or they lost market share). This could have a chilling effect on the blog sphere and all the other video clips on the web.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 29 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.