Fifty Year Old Broadcast Leads to Current Tussle

A friend sent this article my way the other day. It’s the story of Troy Haupt – the owner of the only copy of the television broadcast of the first Super Bowl. Although NBC and CBS both broadcast the game, neither networks saved a copy. The NFL Network recently showed a broadcast of the game, but that was pieced together from game film. Haupt’s father used a primitive Quadruplex taping machine to record the CBS broadcast – commercials (including one for True cigarettes) and all. It appears to be the one and only copy in the world.

And that would seem to make them incredibly valuable. Except that the NFL is doing what it does best – being arrogant and litigious and pretty much ruining the story for Mr. Haupt. The NFL made a lowball offer for the tapes, which Haupt rejected. The League then told Haupt if he sold the tapes to anyone else, he’d be sued for copyright infringement. The New York Times article suggests that the NFL’s legal position is solid.

But not so fast. On further review, that call may not stand. Here’s a piece from the Washington Post suggesting that Mr. Haupt may be able to sell the tapes to anyone he chooses. The NFL clearly owned the copyright to the broadcast of the game. But the question seems to be whether Haupt’s father legally copied the broadcast. If so, according to the Washington Post, he can sell the tangible copy to another person under the “first sale doctrine.” It’s not a terribly complicated concept. If I buy a DVD of a movie, I can’t put it on a big screen in my back yard and charge my neighbors admission to come and watch it. That’s an unauthorized use. But I can sell the DVD at a yard sale. Haupt is interested in the latter here, not the former. But the NFL, which should he busy spending its time figuring out how to stop the CTE epidemic among its players, is too busy sticking it to some poor fan.