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Soccer fan (and Internet Freedom of Speech expert) weighs in on MLS overreaction

Flickr by Jamie Anderson

It was disheartening to say the least to hear a Major League Soccer (MLS) team player use abusive language with a ball boy in the middle of a game, but it’s positively shameful that the MLS decided to go after a fan who later posted a small clip of the game on YouTube to further discussion of the widely publicized incident.

There’s no question that the clip was taken from the copyrighted telecast, but there can also be no doubt that the fan is protected by fair use in posting a 20-second clip from a 90-minute game. MLS responded with an abusive DMCA takedown notice that caused the YouTube clip to be removed – an overreaction that boils down to attempting to deny the fan his right to free speech.

Colin Clark, a player for Major League Soccer team Houston Dynamo, made a significant mistake in lashing out at the ball boy at the Seattle Sounders stadium at the March 23 game, using a gay slur because the ball was not delivered directly into the player’s hands, but rather tossed onto the ground for Clark to pick up. Even though Clark issued an apology, the video prompted a widespread discussion among soccer fans, who compared the incident to recent controversies in Europe over racist comments there.

Just because Clark’s behavior reflects poorly on MLS is no reason to stifle speech about it, let alone take a drastic measure against a fan. Public Citizen contacted MLS on behalf of this poster, calling on the organization to not only withdraw its copyright complaint but to reform its copyright takedown procedures in general to safeguard the public’s right to fair use.  MLS has already reversed the takedown, but it shouldn’t have to take a fan finding a lawyer to get this done.  We hope that MLS will address the problem systematically by fixing its procedures.

Public Citizen’s letter to MLS can be seen at https://www.citizen.org/documents/Garber-Letter.pdf

Paul Alan Levy is an ardent soccer aficionado and Internet freedom of speech expert litigator for Public Citizen’s Litigation Group. Follow him on Twitter @PaulAlanLevy