Thursday, 2 January 2014

IP and... The First Super Bowl

Happy New Year to AfroIP readers!

Clearly a fan
'Tis the season, so this Leo is going to indulge his American roots and write his first 2014 post on that (now) iconic event in the world of sports, the Super Bowl. Particularly, this is about a fascinating IP issue surrounding Super Bowl I.

For non-American readers, the Super Bowl is the final game of the American football season, played between the top team from each of the two conferences that make up the National Football League (NFL). Considering that most people in the rest of the world couldn't even spell "NFL", and that "football" means something entirely different, the Super Bowl is perhaps best known outside the US as being the most expensive advertising event of the year. A 30-second advertising slot in the TV broadcast by Fox Sports currently costs 4 Million USD. (Given that well over 100 million people watch the event annually, maybe it's not such a bum deal after all...)

This year (2014), the 48th Super Bowl will be played on 2nd February in New York City. It's the first time a Super Bowl will be played outdoors in a cold weather environment (this Leo seriously questions the wisdom of such decision by the NFL, and will watch with glee if it turns out to rival the famous Ice Bowl of 1967). In any case, readers can bet that this Leo will be watching (at least a rebroadcast, given the time difference between NYC and Nairobi).

But enough about the modern day event. When the Super Bowl began, in Miami in 1967, it apparently wasn't so "Super" after all. In fact 1/3 of the tickets went unsold for Super Bowl I. (Imagine that! Nowadays, Super Bowl 48 tickets are starting at a painful 3,000 USD per ticket, and none will go unsold). More importantly, after the event, both broadcasting TV stations CBS and NBC overwrote all of the video tape recordings made of the game. This was common in the 1960s, partly because video tape was expensive so stations wanted to reuse what they could, and partly because nobody knew that the Super Bowl would become what it is today.

So, for decades, nobody had any visual record of the first Super Bowl (other than some very minimal footage which the NFL itself had made and kept). The Super Bowl became the spectacle that it is today, and people began desperately scouring the globe in search of "the holy grail" (i.e., footage from Super Bowl I).

Then, in 2011, a discover was made in an attic of a private house in Pennsylvania: a nearly complete copy of the CBS broadcast of the event. It was in need of restoration, which the discoverer/owner had done at the Paley Center for Media in New York. The Paley Center wanted to make the tape available to the public as a public good. The NFL had other plans.

Learning of the discovery, the NFL (predictably) claimed copyright ownership of the event (and therefore any recordings made of the event), and offered the Paley Center 30,000 USD for the discovered copy. The Paley Center refused (it does seem an insultingly low price for such a rare find...). So, now, the Paley center cannot make the tape available to the public, as doing so would purportedly violate the copyright. But the NFL also can't make the tape available because, well, they don't have a copy of their own copyrighted material. We have a stalemate! (and, ironically, more of a competition than the actual Super Bowl I, where the underdog Chiefs were no match for the powerhouse Packers in 1967)

The Wall Street Journal reported on this situation here. As far as this Leo can tell, there has been no resolution. So for now, Super Bowl aficionados can only see small bits of the game that started it all.

This Leo looks forward to a year of fascinating IP issues, including in the world of Sports.

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