For years, many publications have been employing so-called fair use rules to display clips of copyrighted content. The legal doctrine allows an outlet to use some protected materials as long as it illustrates an instrumental part of the story.
Recently, the NFL, the UFC, and the Big 12 and Southeastern collegiate sports conferences sent claims to Twitter that several accounts were using their copyrighted material. Much of the content was not video pulled directly from broadcast but in soundless GIF form. Among the alleged violators was @SBNationGIF, which is run by Vox Media's SB Nation, and @Deadspin, which is owned by Gawker Media.
The NFL confirmed that it sent several notices to Twitter about several companies, including Deadspin as part of its copyright enforcement program. However, it did not ask for any account to be suspended.
According to the complaints, which were provided to CNBC by Twitter, neither the NFL nor the college conferences asked for accounts to be disabled. The UFC specifically requested the termination of accounts and access for those it believed were using its content illegally.
SB Nation sent the following statement: "SB Nation received an email from Twitter notifying us that the @SBNationGIF account had been suspended, due to a DMCA notice Twitter received related to several gifs and vines sent from the @SBNationGIF account, which contained content from college football game broadcasts. The DMCA notice came from XOS Digital, a third-party rights organization. We are working with Twitter to resolve the issue and restore the account. All other SB Nation accounts are in good standing. We take copyright infringement issues seriously and always try to keep our use of unlicensed third-party footage within the bounds of fair use."
XOS Digital vice president of licensing and partnerships Ben Godwin, which has a content representation partnership with the Big 12 and SEC, explained that its Twitter claim on behalf of the conferences was part of its standard copyright enforcement procedures. He confirmed that it did not ask for any account to be suspended.
A UFC representative said in a statement that it works with media outlets and social media sites that "value the worth of intellectual property," but issues takedown requests when they see sites using its unauthorized content.
"The UFC organization has been at the forefront of communicating with its fans on social media and continues to be a leader in providing exciting and dynamic content," it said. "The organization makes usage guidelines available to all outlets who wish to use UFC GIFs and video content to support their coverage of UFC and the sport of mixed martial arts."
Gawker Media did not respond to requests for comment.