The horrific clip was recorded by videographer Adam Ward on August 26, 2015, as he and Parker were fatally shot by a disgruntled former colleague reporting near Roanoke. Broadcast live, the horrific footage quickly went viral, watched millions of times on Facebook, YouTube and other websites. Six years later, it continues to receive tens of thousands of views, despite Parker’s father’s efforts to eliminate Internet clips.
Now, Andy Parker has turned the killing clip into a non-fungible token, or NFT, into a complex and possibly futile bid to claim ownership over the videos, a tactic to use copyright to force Big Tech’s hand. “Here’s the Hail Mary,” said Parker. “an act of despair.”
While Facebook and YouTube say they removed thousands of clips from the killings, dozens remained on the platforms. Over the years, Parker has deployed a variety of strategies to eliminate the latecomers, recruiting a group of allies to search and mark the videos and filing complaints with federal regulators. Last month, he launched a congressional campaign aimed at partially blaming social media companies for the spread of harmful content on their websites.
Under current law, the platforms are largely shielded from liability for the content of posts by their users. But the platforms can still be subject to copyright claims if they do not remove infringing content, and experts say a lawsuit claiming the video is copyrighted material could offer Parker a more effective way to remove it.
“For victims of horrific images distributed on the Internet in general, unfortunately and improperly copyright does end up being an effective tool,” said Adam Massey, a partner at CA Goldberg, a New York law firm that advised Parker.
Families of gun victims often relied on copyright law to get results. Lenny Pozner, whose son was killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, has filed hundreds of copyright claims to get pictures of his son taken from websites spreading conspiracy theories about the deadly shooting. Copyright, Pozner said, is a more effective tool than relying on the platform’s anti-counterfeiting policies, for example, which can often be opaque and unequally enforced.
Copyright has also been a useful tool for victims of consenting pornography, where the mere threat of legal action may be more effective than soliciting platforms, Massey said. “In the early days, there were people, mostly women, who had to register their copyrights of their nudes at the government to try to get them off websites,” he said. “Part of the logic is that if you have the copyright, you can more effectively advocate with the platforms for their removal.”
Parker does not own the copyright to the footage of his daughter’s death, which aired on CBS affiliate WDBJ in 2015. But in December, he created an NFT video of Rarible, a cryptocurrency trading marketplace, in an attempt to claim copyright ownership. of the clip. That, he hopes, will give him a legal position to sue the social media companies to remove the videos from circulation.
NFTs are unique pieces of digital content recorded as assets using a blockchain, the same technology that drives cryptocurrency. Over the past year, NFTs have exploded in popularity as people rushed to buy, sell and trade NFT collections created from fine arts, raw memes and even animated version of a hat worn by Melania Trump.
Under existing law, copyright holders may only reproduce, adapt or display their original work, unless they give permission to another party to do so. Intellectual property lawyers said the concepts should apply to NFTs.
But the rush to transform the vast content circulating freely on the Internet into NFTs has led to property disputes. The blockchain records a constant history of each transaction on a decentralized server, theoretically making it easier to track ownership. In the midst of the buying lightning are situations like that of Parker, where an NFT owner created a duplicate certified version of content, leaving two alleged owners of the same media.
Experts say the NFT ownership case law is still in the early stages of development and has already sparked a number of copyright disputes. In one case, a 12-year-old coder sold an NFT collection he created from pixelated whale images called “Weird Whales” for more than $ 300,000. But according to Fortune magazine, users have accused the project of copying a particular image that the encoder does not seem to own to create its NFT. The boy’s father told BBC News he was “100 percent sure” that his son had not broken copyright law and asked lawyers to “review” the project.
WDBJ roofing company Gray Television owns the copyright to the original footage of the shooting and declined to deliver it. Kevin Latek, chief legal officer for Gray Television, claims the footage does not feature Alison Parker’s murder because the “video does not show the attacker or the shootings during the horrific incident.”
In a statement, Latek said the company “repeatedly offered to provide Mr. Parker with the additional copyright license” to urge social media companies to remove the WDBJ footage “if it is used improperly.”
This includes the right to act as their agent with the HONR network, a nonprofit created by Pozner that helps people targeted by cyberbullying and hatred. “By doing so, we have enabled the HONR Network to mark the video for removal from platforms like YouTube and Facebook,” Latek said.
Parker and his legal counsel say that without owning the footage, the license is of little use when it comes to forcing social media companies to remove clips from the killings. Relying on the license as his legal basis to create NFT from the copyrighted WDBJ footage, Parker hopes to bypass the conflict with Gray Television and pick up his case directly with the social media platforms.
Even if Parker’s gambit works, getting the copyrighted footage removed would be only half the answer. The NFT does not cover a separate clip of the shooting recorded by the shooter, Vester Lee Flanagan, a former WDBJ reporter who was fired in 2013. Some platforms, such as YouTube, have been more strict about removing Flanagan’s footage in accordance with the policy. of a platform for banning videos of violent events when filmed by the perpetrator.
“We remain committed to removing violent footage filmed by Alison Parker’s killer, and we are strictly enforcing our policies using a combination of machine learning technology and human review,” YouTube spokesman Jack Malon said in a statement.
According to YouTube’s policies, the platform may prohibit younger users from watching a violent video instead of deleting the post if it includes a “sufficient” educational context, such as in a news report, Malon said.
Facebook has banned any video featuring the shooting from any angle, without exception, according to Jen Ridings, a spokeswoman for parent company Meta. “We have removed thousands of videos depicting this tragedy since 2015, and continue to proactively remove more,” Ridings said in a statement, adding that Facebook is encouraging to continue reporting such content.
But years later, videos uploaded in the days immediately following the shooting remain online. A review by The Washington Post found nearly 20 posts on Facebook containing a version of the footage of a shooting, including some filmed by the shooter.
While some had only a few hundred views, others had tens of thousands, including one with more than 115,000 views and more than 1,000 likes that remained until August 2015. Facebook removed all videos after they were tagged by The Post.
To date, Parker has not watched any of the footage. “I can’t,” he says.
Aderson Francois, a professor of Georgetown Law who represented Parker in his complaints to the Federal Trade Commission against Facebook and YouTube, called it “indescribably terrible” not only having to report the videos one after another but also reading and listening to “the plot.” theories that people revolve ”around the shooting, including that it was faked or part of a campaign to seize people’s guns.
“When you look at them, you have to leave after a while,” Francois said. “After a while, it makes me have nightmares, have sleepless nights, have flashbacks.”
Parker did not inform Gray Television of its intention to make an NFT of the footage before making money from it. Asked for a comment on Parker’s NFT, Latek said, “Although we made use of licenses available to third parties, those licenses did not and never allowed them to convert our content into NFTs.”
Rarible, the marketplace where the NFT was created, temporarily blocked access to Parker’s token on Tuesday after this story was published. By Wednesday, access had been restored.
Rarible did not say why the NFT was blocked. According to its website, Rarible may block or hide NFT “when a digital asset violates copyright laws, regulations or community guidelines that Rarible violates.” The company will “immediately remove” content that may infringe copyright, according to its website.
Moish Peltz, an intellectual property lawyer who specializes in blockchain, crypto and NFTs, said the digital tokens could present unique tests of how copyright principles apply in cases with mitigating circumstances.
“We’re not rewriting copyright law here, but I think NFTs are creating a new context where there are simply no legal decisions on how they should be applied in certain cases,” Peltz said, adding that “some edge cases” are raised. “some interesting questions.”
Parker hopes his situation will be one of those edge cases. In the midst of the dispute, his relationship with Gray Television deteriorated, and the company hired a communications company, Breakwater Strategy, to deal with issues related to Parker.
In a statement sent to The Post by a Breakwater Strategy spokesman, Latek accused Parker of making false statements about the company and leaving “threatening and harassing voice messages for Gray Television employees at all levels.”
Parker admits that his NFT strategy puts him in “unexplored waters.” But, he said, “instead of copyright, this is the only thing we can do.”
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the name of the nonprofit created by Lenny Pozner. It is the HONR network.