Olympics copyright complications

London 2012 is off and running and while the International Olympics Committee (IOC) says it's in control of all the footage broadcast from the event, the real picture might be a bit different.

The London Olympics are off and running and the while the opening ceremony provided well-crafted vignettes of England’s transformation from an agrarian society to an industrial powerhouse, there was another transformation in play. A transformation that looks set to upend the traditional concepts of copyright and broadcasting on their collective heads.

In an era where the internet facilitates the flow of information around obstacles like water bursting over a dam, decisions about how and when we decide to watch the games aren’t subject to TV schedules anymore.

This was demonstrated over the weekend by the speedy sharing of links to illegal live streams of the opening ceremony through social media and the almost immediate appearance of highlights clips on YouTube and other video sharing sites.

What does it say about how copyright is viewed by society when even leading business figures like the CEO of Salesforce.com openly share links to illegal live streams of TV events? 



The International Olympic Committee makes it clear that they are:

“The owner of the global broadcast rights for the Olympic Games including broadcasts on television, radio, mobile and internet platforms and is responsible for allocating Olympic broadcast rights to media companies throughout the world through the negotiation of rights agreements”.

Official Olympics TV broadcasters pay a lot of money for the rights to broadcast the games and aim to tightly control this coverage. Winning the bid to be official 2010 and 2012 broadcasters in their respective countries cost American network NBC $US2 billion and Australia’s Nine Network/Foxtel  $120 million.

However, the ease of recording a digital TV stream, editing it and sharing it meant that the best parts of the opening ceremony were almost immediately being shared online as the example below of Mr Bean parodying Chariots of Fire recorded from Channel 9 footage illustrates.

Futurist Mark Pesce blogged some time ago about Gilmore’s law “the Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it” and Richard Stallman’s famous statement that “information wants to be free”, stating that:

“Information wants to be copied. The computers which are used to copy this information are connected together in a resilient network – the Internet. In order to stop the copying of information, you’d have to break the Internet – and that’s practically impossible”.

It will be interesting to see how the IOC responds to Olympics 2012 footage being shared online and whether official TV broadcast partners will be willing to bid such large amounts for broadcast rights in the future.

Unless they broadcast every Olympic event live, ratings will undoubtedly suffer because fans will already have found the footage online.

And why shouldn’t they, after all London 2012 has been billed as the first social media Olympics and what could be more social than checking out the latest results on Twitter and watching the games on YouTube.

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