Daytona Crash Censorship?

A large scale accident on Saturday nearly turns fatal and NASCAR doesn't want you to see a second of footage.

Josh Helmuthby Josh Helmuth

According to reports from the AP and other numerous sources, 28-33 fans were injured during NASCAR's Nationwide Series race at Daytona when a large wreck on the last lap sent large chunks of debris into the stands; debris which included a tire and other car parts weighing up to 1,000 pounds. So why have you probably not heard about it? That's a great question.

ESPN's coverage of the wreck has been less than adequate to say the least. Instead of running more news on what is one hell of a newsworthy story — especially considering of the 28 injured, 14 had to be taken to hospitals and at least two were in critical condition —  ESPN keeps running 95 percent of their air-time on the NFL combine and 20 year old's 40-yard dash times.

Public outcry of censorship hit its pinnacle later Saturday when NASCAR demanded a Youtube video taken by a fan who witnessed the large scale crash be taken down due to copyright infringement. After Youtube initially obliged, they eventually released the video back online just a few hours later after seeing what they thought to be a video of 'fair use.'

In a nutshell, in media terms, 'fair use' is any type of footage that could by copyrighted but that of which can be used moderately as long as the medium is reused in an artistic way or is deemed as news. Or in other words, because this was straight up hard news and we believe in freedom of speech in this country, the video should have been able to have been used for news purposes.

Here is the video taken by the fan of the horrific crash. Just after the accident and the smoke clears, you notice that a tire has landed just a few seats down from the videographer. The fan that was hit is then treated by surrounding fans, which includes one man taking off his shirt to most likely stop bleeding. Very scary.

Here is how the crash occurred according to the AP:


The crash began as the field approached the checkered flag and leader Regan Smith attempted to block Brad Keselowski to preserve the win. That triggered a chain reaction, and rookie Kyle Larson hit the cars in front of him and went airborne into the fence.

The entire front end was sheared off Larson's car, and his burning engine wedged through a gaping hole in the fence. Chunks of debris from the car were thrown into the stands, including a tire that cleared the top of the fence and landed midway up the spectator section closest to the track.

The 20-year-old Larson stood in shock several yards away from his car as fans in the stands waved frantically for help. Smoke from the burning engine briefly clouded the area, and emergency vehicles descended on the scene. Ambulance sirens could be heard wailing behind the grandstands at a time the race winner would typically be doing celebratory burnouts.

The AP continues to list accounts from fans that witnessed the event.

"It was freaky. When I looked to my right, the accident happened," said Rick Harpster of Orange Park, Fla., who had a bird's-eye view of the wreck. "I looked over and I saw a tire fly straight over the fence into the stands, but after that I didn't see anything else That was the worst thing I have seen, seeing that tire fly into the stands. I knew it was going to be severe."

Shannan Devine, of Egg Harbor Township, N.J., was sitting about 250 feet away from where the car smashed into the fence and could see plumes of smoke directly in front of her.

"I didn't know if there was a car on top of people. I didn't know what to think. I'm an emotional person and I immediately started to cry. It was very scary. Absolutely scary. I love the speed of the sport. But it's so dangerous," said Devine who was planning to attend her second Daytona 500.

She said many fans got in the way of rescue efforts by trying to take pictures and videos, even jumping over fencing in hopes of getting closer to the scene.

Does all of this sound like something that should be censored to you? Although NASCAR states they're only trying to protect the injured fans' identities that may have been captured on tape, it's obvious they're really just trying to protect the image of their product. After all, a failing fence that was the cause of dozens of injuries fans can't be great P.R. just hours away from the official Daytona 500. published a nice article Sunday explaining why NASCAR felt they deserved to pull all video of the wreck and why Youtube didn't accompany their request.

On the ticket, NASCAR claims to own the rights to all "images, sounds and data" from a particular event. For further information regarding the clause and its applicability, ticketholders are directed to, which does not load. NASCAR later changed course, saying the video had been pulled in deference to the uncertain health status of many of the injured fans. This still does not change NASCAR's initial stance, however, that they have a right to limit access to this content.

YouTube later disagreed and reinstated the video. It's a reversal not often realized, likely because it requires a proactive step from the uploader—the person responsible for a potential copyright violation. Once a video is pulled for alleged copyright infringement, the uploader must file a counter-notification to have YouTube reinstate the video. This process can only be used on content believed to have been misidentified or removed by mistake. It usually takes 10 days and requires sending personal information to the person making the copyright claim. Last night, Erik Wemple at The Washington Post got a statement from YouTube on the decision to reinstate the video:

"Our partners and users do not have the right to take down videos from YouTube unless they contain content which is copyright infringing, which is why we have reinstated the videos."

The quote is pretty vague on the who, the why and the how of the decision, but one thing is clear: as far as YouTube is concerned, NASCAR does not have a copyright claim to all images, sounds and data from an event to which it has issued tickets.

Wemple also notes that YouTube can reinstate videos without the counter-notification process "after it takes a look and decides for itself that the material doesn't infringe copyright, or when it feels that there has been abuse of its copyright process." That is not really spelled out on the site, but if a claim is improperly filed, YouTube may be able to treat it as voided and disregard it.

Most likely, the events in the immediate aftermath of the crash unfolded like this: NASCAR panicked about the video being online and requested YouTube take it down. YouTube rolled over as it usually does. As the story developed, outrage spread at the handling of the situation. ESPN initially was not even covering the crash apart from speaking to drivers even though the story clearly shifted from the track to the stands.

It was all compounded when video capturing the exact moment that happened was no longer hosted by YouTube because NASCAR pulled it. Eventually all involved realized that there was nothing copyrightable about the event from NASCAR's point of view. So YouTube reinstated the video in a matter of hours, and NASCAR said the removal was not based on a copyright claim but rather out of respect and caution. A noble if not entirely believable clarification.

It will be interesting to see what, if any, impact this may have on other events. Most teams and leagues have similarly broad language regarding copyright claims for action the ticketholder may witness—the Yankees for instance refer to this as "game information" and claim all the rights NASCAR does and specifically prohibit you from transmitting information while simultaneously ensuring the ability to use your likeness in its own transmissions. Teams, leagues and entertainment providers go to great lengths to protect their brand reputation (profitability) and as we saw yesterday often have powerful allies. But at some point yesterday enough people made a stink that they cut through the bullshit. It makes you wonder what YouTube will do the next time a fan captures a spontaneous break in the typical action.

Are you a NASCAR fan and do you think they went to far prohibiting the release of any footage of the accident?  Does something like this effect they way you feel about the organization and the sport? Let us know how you feel.

I believe in freedom of speech and covering up any type of news from such a large scale event sounds like censorship to me. That's how I feel.

Josh Helmuth is the editor for CraveOnline Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @JHelmuth or subscribe at

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