CW-11 news claims clip of them airing YouTube prank infringes copyright

For April Fool's Day this year, ImprovEverywhere pretended they'd done a flashmob at a funeral, posting a staged video of the prank to YouTube. The Tribune's CW11 news-team presented the prank as fact that night on their evening newscast, so ImprovEverywhere put a little clip on YouTube of the CW11 broadcast of their gag -- CW11 simply aired their own video with the words "YouTube" superimposed on it.

So, naturally, CW11 sent a copyright notice to YouTube saying that the video infringed their copyright.

CW 11 News Falls for Fake Improv Everywhere April Fool's Mission - video powered by Metacafe

Tonight I got a copyright notice from YouTube informing me that Tribune (the parent company of the CW 11) had filed a copyright claim against the video and that it had been removed. Clearly they want this embarrassment off of the Internets. What's more interesting is the fact that their original broadcast used our content without permission. They simply put "YOUTUBE" on the screen to indicate that's where they found the video. So it's OK for them to air content that we shot and own, but it's not OK for me to upload their footage of the content they took from me? It's "fair use" for the news to take a video off of YouTube and broadcast it, but it's not "fair use" for a citizen to expose their poor reporting on his own content? CW 11 Files Copyright Claim (Thanks, Jim!)


  1. I don’t care where you come down on this issue between T.V. news and Improv Everywhere, but I’m going to get on my own soap box and denounce practical jokes and gags.

    I don’t find them funny, I don’t partake in them and I think less of people who are obsessed with them.

    Come on, I can’t be the only one who just sees the cruel nature of humiliating someone else who isn’t in on the joke.

  2. Once I got off my soapbox and started thinking about the issue, I guess the only difference between the television media’s “fair use” and your showing a clip of them is that they are the media and you aren’t.

    It certainly is an obvious claim of hypocrisy in that you could’ve claimed the same copyright infringement when they showed your video in the first place by their logic.

    BTW as a journalist, television news is notorious for doing news the easy way. Just think about why the weather report is in every newscast and how much you actually need it. TV news has a weather segment because its an extremely cheap and easy segment to produce and fill time every night, not because it gives any worthwhile information.

    PS, I love the condescending “gotcha” tone the anchor uses to sensationalize this time filler fluff of non-news, and of course they wouldn’t dream of correcting the record by admitting that they were the ones who were got.

  3. Oh, the Daily Mail in the UK does that kind of thing all the time. Or rather, they take photos from Twitpic and put a (C) Twitter attribution on the photo itself.

    One classic example is this:

    They’re hardly going to attribute the copyright to Jonathan Ross and keep attacking him in the article are they? Much safer to make the copyright attribution up to Twitter.

    I’ve written about the Daily Mail’s practice here:


  4. Jay Acker @3:

    Like just about anything else, practical jokes and gags in moderation are OK. They serve to teach a valuable lesson to the “victim”.

    Hopefully they will become a little more sceptical. In this case it may teach lazy “journalists” to get off their buts and make a few (or at least one) phone call and/or web search before airing a story.

    Now some jokes and gags can go too far and be cruel and not-funny. But I don’t see that in this case.

    This reminds me of a workplace initiation story I once heard: The first day on the job a new hire was asked to go to another department of the company and ask to borrow an AC battery. Every employee he met would smirk and say “We don’t have those here try department x down the way”. After the newbie had visited just about every square inch of the plant and met just about every employee, they would let he or she in on the fact that there is no such thing as an AC battery!

    But: Now this rookie has been introduced to everyone,and has a clue as to where all the departments are and what they do.

    P.S. I am aware that there are in fact AC batteries, but they are rather exotic and relatively new tech.

  5. The obvious response by ImprovEverywhere would be:

    Thank you for bringing your unauthorized airing of our copyrighted material to our attention. Please pay $ or face a copyright lawsuit for statutory damages.

  6. #3 You do realize that the best gags of this sort involve anyone being humiliated or otherwise victimized in any way, right? For the most part the Improv Everywhere pranks leave people confused – and occasionally delighted.

    For example, Improv Everywhere’s food court musical:

  7. This was NOT a practical joke at all. Note the “pretended they’d done a flashmob at a funeral.”

    The inability of people on all sides to look at the information presented and then evaluate its veracity is typical of the poor attention to detail that is prevalent across the internet.

    CW11 are at fault for the take-down. The reporting by them of the ‘funeral’ is a valid use of the material.


    See Section 10.1, particularly the latter part.

    I suspect (but don’t speak fluent legalese) they gave permission by submitting their content to Youtube, while Tribune did not.

    Not that that makes it nice or fair, of course.

  9. @ Jay Acker:
    You seem upset at the notion that this practical joke was had at the expense of mourners at a funeral, yet the first sentence of this article states that Improv Everywhere pretended to stage a flashmob at the funeral, and that they then uploaded the staged video to youtube. The words “pretended” and “staged” suggest that this was not a practical joke on the funeral-goers at all, but rather a clever bit of theatre. Perhaps you are upset that you yourself were deceived?

  10. Do as I say and not as I do. If the USA Government hasn’t taught us this yes then nothing will.

  11. Well, what they were doing was basically commenting on the YouTube video. That represents the extent to which they improved upon the media. So, I think this is totally fair game – all of my YouTube comments are copyrights, and you must pay me $10 per viewing.

  12. The Media is dead, let us pray etc. That said, Youtube T&Cs probably state that ImprovEverywhere gave up their rights to their footage by posting it there…

  13. Are people seriously anti-Improv Everywhere on the basis that they are practical jokers? Firstly, a cursory read-through of the OP will inform you that this was not an actual funeral; everyone involved is an actor. Nextly, a (*very*) short Google search will show you that their pranks are rarely (if ever) on somebody. Their missions are absurdist scores that disrupt the everyday grind, not humiliate those out of the loop. Frozen Grand Central? Slow-mo Home Depot? Shirtless Abercrombie? Recursive Starbucks? “Suicide jumper” on an absurdly short ledge? Their missions may confuse, but they are not designed to harm.

    (The one great exception that I can think of is “Best Gig Ever”, in which Improv Everywhere agents descended on an out-of-town band’s first NYC gig pretending to be superfans. Sure, it’s great to play a show to people who look like they’re enjoying themselves, but when the entire audience disappears immediately after your last chord? I wonder if this “Awesome Funeral” project is kind of a tongue-in-cheek reference to the band debacle.)

    I think Improv Everywhere is a close relative of Operation Mindf*ck, and thus well within the sphere of Happy Mutants Doing Wonderful Things.

  14. Okay, I see in the future, there being a larger working budget for ImprovEverywhere. Clearly, the news article impeached itself..

    1. They teased it before commercials. (See it here!) $$
    2. They suggest ‘see the whole video’ on their ad-laden website. $$

    Clearly, the news station is making money off the
    usage of IO’s footage.

    Don’t get lawyers involved, just negotiate a trade: ‘borrowing’ a news crew for a future improv session. I think a variant on War of the Worlds with eyewitness interviews, while the rest of the crowd is going wha?

  15. @ #5 mbdrake

    If the Daily Mail is doing that, it’s obviously in breach of copyright (for unauthorised use of the image) but they’re also breaking the one aspect of copyright that in Europe CANNOT be given away, licensed or sold – moral right to be identified at the author of the copyrighted work.

    Johnathan Ross is the author, not Twitter and to claim otherwise is in itself a breach of European copyright. (As I understand it – if I’m wrong, plz correct me).

  16. With actual reporting budgets getting cut left and right, this *is* the future of journalism. Imagine if all of your local and world news was replaced with a bunch of you-tube videos that the intern at a local TV station found with the “threat or menace” question tacked on to it, and no actual reporting.

    Yeah it’s a reductio-ad-absurdum sort of future, but steps are being taken in that direction. We get here form the “blogger finds story from other blogger, links to that, and gets connected in a chain of blog posts” model of news “reporting” and we loose out on actual investigative journalism.

  17. @ #18 Blue

    Indeed. I’ve tried emailing the Daily Mail, but they do not acknowledge anything I’ve told them. Similarily, I’ve tried contacting the Press Complaints Commission – but they won’t step in because it’s a legal issue.

    If the Daily Mail wants to open itself up to being sued – I think most celebrities won’t care (unfortunately) their pictures are being used because as the old saying goes, there’s no such thing as bad publicity – even by the Daily Mail.

    Have reported this to Twitter who just came back and told me that “no, they don’t own the copyright” and closed the case. I asked them to forward it onto their legal department (after all, if Twitter is implied as being the legal copyright owner of somebody else’s photos – doesn’t this open them to legal issues too?).


  18. I say sue the bastards. Don’t settle out of court. Appeal if you lose. Force this to become caselaw.

    Then we’ll know for sure if we live in a country entirely by, for, and about big fatass corporations. (Smart money bets: we do.)

  19. Should point out that in terms of photography, the copyright lies with whoever is taking the photograph – so in the example I quote above, it wouldn’t be with Jonathan Ross.

  20. I’d be kinda pissed if some TV station used one of my YouTube videos without my permission, though if they were using it to do “commentary/critique”, with reporter voiceovers and stuff then I guess that’s also fair use.

    But if they just broadcast it whole, without comment, just “hey, look at this”, then no, get my permission first! I’d probably still say yes and not ask any $$ but…I’d like the option to say no (which I might, if it were Fox News, say).

  21. When you upload a video to YouTube, you agree that this video may be embedded on any website (unless you un-check that box), as long as you leave the video up. You still own the copyright, but you agree to let anyone else show it.

    So unless you took down the video, or un-checked that box, you cannot sue someone for showing a video that you posted on YouTube and that you own the copyright to.

    When it comes to commercial purposes, things get a little trickier. On the one hand: YouTube itself has ads on it (and I don’t know whether you can opt out of them – I don’t think you can), and the majority of websites that embed YouTube stuff have ads on them (and I’m sure you can’t tell YouTube “My video may only be embedded on sites without ads”; it’s either all or none). So someone who posts on YouTube effectively has to be ok with others making money by embedding the video. So Improv Everywhere cannot reasonably have a problem with the TV station showing their video. Probably wouldn’t hold up in court.

    (On the other hand, the lawyers in the company I work for have decided that monetizing on other people’s YouTube videos might be illegal, and thus we are strictly forbidden to embed YouTube videos on our webpages, even on internal pages. We may only link to the video as shown on Sure, our lawyers might be too paranoid, since a bazillion websites with ads embed YouTube videos… but my point is, the issue isn’t 100% clear).

    As for whether posting the TV station video on YouTube is fair use, that’s tricky. If the video only has a small amount of footage of the news people (How small is “small”?), includes commentary (Ideally in the video itself, but I guess possibly in the description or comments), doesn’t replace the news show in its market (i.e. people don’t stop watching the news show on TV and instead just watch the YouTube clip – which is ridiculous), then it probably should be OK, but possibly not. But it doesn’t matter in the case of YouTube, since to post something on YouTube you agree that you own the copyright to it, and if you don’t own the copyright to it YouTube reserves the right to take it down, fair use or no.


    (IANAL, but I’ve done enough work on this kind of thing to have a pretty good understanding of it, I think).

  22. I think the key part of US copyright law being overlooked by this thread is the well established precedent of “all your copyrights are belong to us.”

  23. @13…
    by my reading of the link, you grant YOUTUBE the right to use the video. The affiliate is NOT Youtube.

  24. I don’t know about the US, but down here in NZ television *does* have special fair use provisions all of their own. For eg if they want to use a photo I get the idea they can run it with a credit without any permission.

    ANACL though.

  25. While you give permission to YouTube when you upload to use on their *website* use in a TV broadcast is certainly not included. (see Section 6(c)). ImprovEverwhere’s videographers have a colorable copyright infringement claim. IAAL, for what it’s worth.

  26. Aargh, for all you who think I’m a dimwitted simpleton, I assure you that I am well aware of the intricacies of this particular situation.

    I for one think my fav Improv everywhere is when they all dressed up as Best Buy employees and proceeded to help people in the store.

    I simply took this opportunity of a – yes I understand its staged – practical joke to vent my opinion of practical jokes in general.

    Of which I do not find funny.

  27. #30

    If you’ve never chuckled at a single improv anywhere segment, Its fair to say you have no sense of humor.

    What do you find funny? watching paint dry? grass grow?

    Good grief.

  28. Improv Everywhere don’t do cruel, horrible, or humiliating pranks, dudes. D:

    While others would hijack the Walmart PA system, IE would form a musical number.

    Their sole mission is provide confusion or lift people’s moods from routine. They’re not aiming for funny.

  29. It was a fake funeral. If anyone actually watched the video off the Improve everywhere web site, they tell you this in the opening.

    Love how the news people freaked out over it though.

  30. Improv Everywhere had the right to post the CW 11 News broadcast as a criticism of Tribune’s unauthorised use of their copyrighted material. This is enshrined within US copyright law.

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