Only Surviving Recording Of The Very First Superbowl Is Because A Fan Recorded It, But You Can't See It, Because Copyright

from the dirty-pirates dept

We’ve written a few times in the past about how the entertainment industry’s woeful job of preserving and archiving old works has resulted in culture being lost — but also how unauthorized copies (the proverbial “damn dirty pirates”) have at least saved a few such treasures from complete destruction. There was, for example, the “lost” ending to one of the movie versions of Little Shop of Horrors that was saved thanks to someone uploading it to YouTube. Over in the UK, a lost episode of Dad’s Army was saved due to a private recording. However, Sherwin Siy points out that the very first Super Bowl — Super Bowl I, as they put it — was basically completely lost until a tape that a fan made showed up in someone’s attic in 2005. Except, that footage still hasn’t been made available, perhaps because of the NFL’s standard “we own everything” policy. From Cracked:

It sounds crazy nowadays, but during the ’60s, NBC and CBS, who broadcast Super Bowl I, essentially had no archiving policy for anything other than primetime shows, so neither one kept a copy of the historic game beyond a few random clips. And seeing as home video technology was still a few years away, the broadcast footage was considered lost forever until a mostly-complete recording turned up in a Pennsylvania attic in 2005, made by a fan at a video production company.

And we have to emphasize “mostly” here — the copy is missing much of the third quarter, the entire halftime show, and several smaller bits. The Paley Center for Media tried reconstructing these parts using official sideline footage and fan-made audio recordings, but the last we heard about the project was way back in 2011, right around the time the NFL started claiming sole copyright ownership of the footage. Probably a coincidence.

Other reports explain in more detail that, indeed, the NFL stepped in to “protect” the work it had failed to originally protect:

The NFL has claimed ownership of the broadcast itself and while the Paley Center was allowed to keep a copy of the game, it cannot show it without permission from the owner of the videotapes, who reportedly would like to sell the tapes.

The original WSJ article about all of this details the NFL’s claim to the man who found the tape, who has remained nameless.

Mr. Harwood, the attorney, says he contacted the NFL in 2005 about the tape. He says the league sent him a letter on Dec. 16, 2005 claiming the NFL was the exclusive owner of the copyright. Mr. Harwood says the NFL offered his client $30,000 for the tape and his client declined. Mr. Harwood said his client would like to sell the tapes and make them available to the public if the legal issues can be resolved.

So the NFL failed to save it. A fan did. And now no one can see it because the NFL is claiming copyright over the footage it failed to protect. Great to see copyright “protecting” culture once again, huh?

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Comments on “Only Surviving Recording Of The Very First Superbowl Is Because A Fan Recorded It, But You Can't See It, Because Copyright”

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ECA (profile) says:

Re: Re:

HOW about the ability to show a Public event to more then.1% of the public?
how would you like to make a stadium, big enough to hold 1% OF THE POPULATION.

Then how about those working during the Time of the event?

Copies to those that wish to KEEP a copy of the event..
HISTORICAL REASON..better then reading Tablets on the event.

Sheogorath (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

See his hilarious attempts to redefine the concept of free to pretend that U2 weren’t actually giving a free album to iTunes accounts for a great example.
Well, to be fair to Whatever, those albums weren’t given free to users, the price was that once they had a copy in their account, they couldn’t delete it. The fact that that has since changed doesn’t alter that fact.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

It would honestly kill you to lay the blame where it belongs in any given article, wouldn’t it?

Cops violate your rights? Your fault for having them! Also you probably provoked them.

NFL doesn’t save copy of first Superbowl but fan does? Fuck that guy, he’s just a greedy bastard and how dare he not sell it to the NFL for a pittance! The fuck!

Denied access to movies and shows thanks to Australian entertainment industry and numerous studios because REASONS? Fuck you for paying for Netflix and using a VPN to access it! Also fuck Netflix! How dare they not know people are using VPNs to access things they are being explicitly prohibited from acquiring legally because REASONS!

Whatever, the guy who falls over himself to excuse asshole behavior and blames those who aren’t in the wrong and are doing everything possible to show corporations and police officers for the assholes they more often than not are.

Josh in CharlotteNC (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Seems more like after being offered a generous payout

$30k for the only surviving recording of the first Superbowl? I vacillate between hating and not caring about football, and even I know it’d be worth more than that just to a collector.

the guy who “owns” the tapes

Why the scare quotes? Of course he owns the tapes. Even your insane and fucked up version of copyright says he owns the tapes. It’s just that he cannot legally distribute copies of them.

RD says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“Oh, and RD, I have to thank you for explaining why the report button on Techdirt is abused and used as a censorship tool. You make DMCA look sane and entirely fair.”

Yeah, thats not censorship moron. It has been explained to you 20 times how and why its not. It is an expression of an OPINION (your comment is bad, report it as such) and if enough people feel that it should be used to express such, those are the breaks. You are entitled to freedom of speech, but not from the consequences of that speech. Everyone has a right to express their opinion, even you. Just because 90% of the world turns on you and calls you out for your opinion is not “censorship,” its an indicator that they do not share your opinion.

Whatever (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

He may own the tapes, but he really doesn’t own the right to the content on them. Put in simple terms, if you happened to have recorded on your VCR something that didn’t happen to get archived, you don’t suddenly own it. He can keep it for himself (betamax ruling) but he really can’t sell it on or grant rights to others.

So he “owns” the tapes only in the sense that he owns that copy, and doesn’t have any other rights. So 30K (instead of “have a nice day and enjoy re-watching your superbowl video”) isn’t such a bad thing. Heck, he probably could negotiate super bowl tickets for life if he wanted.

The problem here is that he can’t do anything with it. So it’s value is to only one group who can actually do anything with it, the NFL. He can’t sell it to anyone else, he can’t even really give it away. So what does he do? He holds out for a bigger payday. That’s the guy holding the process up.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

If I take a picture of you walking down the street, who owns copyright?

If I take 5,000 pictures of you walking down the street, who owns copyright?

If I take a picture of you sitting inside a Starbuck’s, who owns copyright?

If I take 5,000 pictures of you sitting inside a Starbuck’s, who owns copyright?

If I take a video of my son at a little league game, who owns copyright?

If I take a video of my son scoring the winning touchdown at a Superbowl game, who owns copyright?

If I take a video of my son playing in the first Superbowl game (which was way before small print “you waive all rights to any recordings you make of this event” made it into ticket purchases), who owns copyright?

See, the problem here isn’t that NFL owns copyright (they don’t, although they do hold some trade marks and other trade properties), it’s that the original people who recorded the video are no longer in the picture.

From the article, I’m still not sure who originally recorded the footage — was it some guy working for a video production company (defunct? production company would own the copyright), or was it done on his own time, or was this actually footage owned by a TV studio that someone at the video production company got their hands on?

In any case, the NFL is the LAST group to have a legitimate claim on the copyright here — and the people who WOULD have a claim likely aren’t in any position to make that claim.

Thus, even if the NFL bought the video, they’d still have to get permission from the copyright holder(s) before they could do anything with it.

Thus, copyright has basically made this recording illegal to present/sell/share with the public, no matter who has their hands on it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

$30,000? A generous payout? What third world hellhole do you live in that makes that look generous?

This is the most complete record, nay sole known surviving record of any substance of the first championship of the modern era of the most popular sport in the United States of America.

It is easily worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, and quite likely millions. Yet you think a measly $30,000 is generous? That’s a mere year’s pay at $15 per hour for a standard 40 hour work week. It’s the price of a nice, but not too nice new car. And you think that’s generous?

Especially when the one making the offer is the multi-billion dollar industry that is the NFL? 30k dollars is pocket change to them. Hell, it’s a rounding error in the contracts for some of the players, much less the budget for just one entire team.

$30 million would be generous. $30 thousand is just an insult.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

really, IF the cleats were on the other foot, you KNOW the nfl would not sell that tape/rights for $30 000…

but then IF the nfl were in that position, you KNOW whatevs would talk out the other side of his ass and blather on about ‘whatever the market would bear’, ‘their right to set the price’, blah blah blah, bullshit bullshit bullshit…

dog almighty you are a disgusting authoritarian…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“Seems more like after being offered a generous payout, the guy who “owns” the tapes refuses to part with them, which makes it impossible for them to be restored and shown to the public.”

The blame is still on copy protection laws for lasting so long that many years later there are no other remaining copies left. If it weren’t for copy protection laws people could have made and distributed other copies without worrying about infringement and there could be other copies everywhere.

When copy protection laws last so insanely long it maybe left up to the copy protection holder to preserve the content until it reaches the public domain since no one else is allowed to make copies to preserve it and by the time it does reach the public domain all legal distributions maybe in poor condition. and that assumes the copy protection holder chooses to even release a copy by then. But why should society be at the mercy of the copy protection holder to decide if they want to preserve it for future generations? Why should society be at the mercy of the copy protection holder’s effort (or poor effort or lack of effort) to preserve it? Why should the discretion of the copy protection holder to decide the extent they wish to preserve and redistribute something to future generations even be a factor? It should not. We should be allowed to preserve it through making our own copies. Copy protection laws are absolutely to blame.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Wait, what?

I think they ARE the author, if they’re the ones who set up the broadcast.

Given that clips exist, it seems that the game was indeed fixed in tangible form at the time (and then later thrown away, but that doesn’t affect copyright.)

Not sure if lack of registration meant there was no copyright – it wouldn’t today, but the laws were different then. But maybe they did register it.

Androgynous Cowherd says:

Re: Re: Re: Wait, what?

Then the tape of Superbowl I is public domain. Nobody registered the copyright and it was fixed in a tangible medium by the recording fan, not either NBC or CBS (nevermind the NFL). I’m pretty sure that means it’s PD, or possibly (if the fan didn’t “publish” it in any way until after 1976) it might be the fan’s copyright. It certainly isn’t the NFL’s. A strong case could be made that it’s public domain, and an airtight one that the NFL, NBC, and CBS all lack the copyright.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Wait, what?

Copyright Act of 1976 is what brought automatic copyright. Before then, it needed a registration and notice or it was public domain.

Example: Someone forgot to attach the notice to the original Night of the Living Dead. That made it public domain and is why it is available for cheap and frequently packaged in multi-movie horror packs. Hell, I got a DVD copy once that just happened to come with a CD of Halloween music.

Sheogorath (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Wait, what?

Copyright Act of 1976 is what brought automatic copyright.
No, it didn’t. It really didn’t. The Berne Convention Implementation Act 1988 is what brought automatic copyright to the States.
Before then, it needed a registration and notice or it was public domain.
Wrong again. Before then, you had the UCC so all that a work required was a properly formatted and affixed copyright notice with registration only upon the optional renewal.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“Isn’t copyright terms something like 100 years plus the life of the author?”

In 1967, the law was 28 & 28 (with renewal)…only if you sent a copy of the item to be copyrighted to the Library of Congress along with a registration fee.
Since no copy was sent by the NFL to the Library of Congress, there’s no copyright claim.

Sheogorath (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Nuh uh. The law in 1967 was that copyright on published works was 28 years from publication with a correctly formatted and affixed copyright notice, with an additional 28 years with the appropriate renewal fee and a copy of the work being sent to the Library of Congress.
As others have pointed out, if the guy who shot the footage never showed anybody outside of his friends and family, then he or his heirs still have a legitimate copyright. Why is it always that this Brit knows US copyright law better than so many of the American commenters on this site?

AC says:

I'm confused

Was this a fan at the game who recorded the action from his vantage point, or did he record the live broadcast from home?

If it’s the former, then he’s the one who made all the artistic decisions (lighting, angle, zoom, etc). The NFL may have a better case in the latter scenario. If they can reconstruct enough of the game, I could see a special edition DVD released in time for SB 50.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: I'm confused

Even if he recorded the action himself, it was still the NFL who staged the event and thus owns the copyright.

Had al-Qaeda been a bit more savvy regarding American intellectual property law, they would not have neglected to declare ownership of all 9/11 video.

The terrorists would have had a revenue stream that certain copyright maximalist organizations would vigorously defend, to ensure that the War on Terror isn’t used as an excuse to weaken copyright. For their protection, companies like Remove Your Media would allow them to issue DMCA takedown notices with total anonymity.

The NFL could teach them a thing or two.

RD says:

Re: Re: Re: I'm confused

If anyone, wouldn’t it be the network who first broadcast it? They were the ones that “staged” the cameras and setup, and filmed it originally. Then again, if it wasnt actually recorded at the time, and rather only broadcast live, what does that do to copyright for it? You always hear “this broadcast is copyright blah blah blah” but the broadcast is, by definition, not a fixed recording. This is why copyright needs to be reformed. It doesn’t keep pace with technology, and then everyone jumps in to try to exploit the system for their benefit to the detriment of the very public that granted them that right to begin with.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 I'm confused

I think this is where we get into the kinds of murky waters that make a mockery of moronic claims that google can accurately deduce copyright with an algorithm.

My understanding is that it would be the network who owned the copyright, just as it’s the photographer, not the subject, who owns a photograph’s copyright. But, depending on the contract at the time, it’s possible that the network waived rights, assigned them to the production company if the work was not done by an in-house crew, signed them over to the NFL or some combination or alternative. It’s also possible that, as suggested above, that the work is actually in the public domain under the copyright rules of the time.

But, realistically, any alternative to the NFL’s claim will most likely need to be fought in court – and they have the expensive lawyers and money to fight for a long time. So even if they’re wrong, we probably won’t find out.

David says:

I thought the photographer owned the copyright...

even if the photographer was a monkey? IN this case, the copyright should clearly be owned by the photographer, especially since this was long before the NFL proactively claimed copyright on any and all pictures, videos, descriptions, and commentary of the games.

AC above does point out a valid differentiation, if the recording is of the TV broadcast, then it would be the NFL. In which case, the person has every expectation to destroy it and lose the content forever, since never should have existed in the first place. The NFL cannot coerce him to preserve it. Copyright for the win!

Chris-Mouse (profile) says:

Unless the NFL has something in writing saying they got the copyright on the game, then they don’t have it.
The TV cameraman might have a claim on it. The TV network probably would have a stronger claim as a work for hire, especially if there were multiple cameras used.
If the network broadcast the game live, and didn’t make a recording, then the person who made the fixed recording would also have a claim for the copyright.
It would be an interesting question to run through the courts. Anyone willing to make a few million dollars available to pay the lawyers?

DannyB (profile) says:

A letter from 2020

I’ll be back on topic in a moment . . .

Have you read: A Letter from 2020? I saw this a long time ago. I’m sure it was over a decade ago. Probably closer to 2000 when the DMCA and other atrocities were being considered.

It’s no longer on the web. But here it is on the Wayback.

I’m quoting it here for posterity.

The original web publication of this letter can be found

Dear Me,

I’m not sure if reading this letter is illegal. I thought it only fair to warn you; it might be better to just destroy it.

The actual writing has been a bit of a chore. Word.NET isn’t what it used to be. Even Microsoft.NET couldn’t afford to patent everything, so whilst I can do Find, there’s no Replace anymore. One good thing about having only one legal operating system is that it’s very stable. I’m glad they never update Windows.NET; anyone can live with three or four crashes a day and the hourly rent is less than I pay for my apartment.

I try to remember what it was like when I was a kid but it’s really difficult; the world has changed so much since then. I found a paper book the other day that described the rise and fall of something called the “Internet”. It started out with people putting up links on computers so that they could follow the link and read things on other computers for free. After it got to be popular, companies started to create machines with lots of links that you could search to find things of interest. But someone put up a link to something illegal and got sued and had their machine shut down. This happened a few times and people started to take the links off their machines. The search engine companies were the first to go and without them, you couldn’t find anything. Eventually no one put up links anymore because the legal risk was too great. The important thing is that it reduced terrorism. I’m not sure how it could have worked anyway. Anything I write on my computer or any music I create gets stored by Word.NET and Music.NET in encrypted formats to protect my privacy. No one but me, Microsoft.NET and the National Corporation can read or hear my stuff even if they could link to it.

I shouldn’t admit it, but sometimes I go to certain places and speak to the subversives. I know its wrong but their warped views on things have some kind of morbid fascination. For example, I spoke to someone who claimed to be a historian the other day. She had courage all right, admitting to an illegal activity like that. I hadn’t understood why it was illegal until she explained. History, she told me, gives you context. You can compare today with some time in the past; ask questions like, “are people better off”, “look at the different forms of doing business”, “compare corporate records or the rights of citizens” (I think she meant employees).

But what interested her was that future generations will know nothing about us; all our records and art are stored digitally, most of it will simply disappear when no one rents it anymore — remember the sadness when the last digital copy of Sgt. Pepper was accidentally erased? And the data that does survive will all be encrypted and in proprietary formats anyway — even if there were historians they’d have no right to reverse engineer the formats. I can vaguely remember that people used to have physical copies of music and films, although I’m not sure how that was possible, or what the point was when we can rent whatever we like from the air interface. I don’t think it matters that those who come after us can’t read our writings or hear our music or see our films; these things are temporal anyway, if no one rents them then they can’t be worth keeping.

The saddest subversive I met claimed to be a programmer. He said that he was writing a program using Basic.NET. He must have been insane. Even if his program worked he wouldn’t be allowed to run it. How could one person possibly check every possible patent infringement in a program they wrote? And even if he hadn’t infringed he couldn’t sell it without buying a compatibility license from Microsoft.NET and who could possibly afford that? He had said something about gippling the software, which apparently means giving it away, but mad as he was, even he knew that under WUCITA that would be illegal.

These subversives really don’t seem to understand that a few restrictions are necessary for the sake of innovation. And progress has been made. We don’t have spam since most people can’t afford an email license due to the expensive patent royalties. Our computer systems all have the same operating system, user interface and applications so everyone knows how to use them, and although they crash and don’t work very well, we all know the limitations and can live with them. We have no piracy of intellectual property since we rent it as we want it and have no means of storing it.

It was the USA that showed the world the way of course. First the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, then more and more software patents. The Japanese followed suit. The Europeans were a problem, which is only to be expected, with their anti-business un-Christian socialist tendencies. Fortunately, common sense prevailed, helped along by the good old dollar I’ve no doubt and they accepted both software patents and a redefinition of copyright to suit global corporations. Once the USA, Japan and Europe had uniform intellectual property laws to protect our corporations and our way of life, everyone else had to play ball or they couldn’t trade. The result has been that every algorithm and computer program and every piece of music and film (after all music and film can be put into digital form and are therefore a form of software) have been patented. No more variations on Beethoven (unless you’ve got the patentees approval). No more amateur participation in music or film which might risk lowering standards. No more challenge to established business and business practices.

I’m crazy to have written I know. But I am so happy in the world and I remember how unhappy I used to be. I wanted to somehow pass back to you the knowledge that its all going to be okay, that the world really is getting better.



Considering the age of this letter, how much of it is coming true?

Now, to the relevant topic at hand. See the first sentence of paragraph 5.

But what interested her was that future generations will know nothing about us; all our records and art are stored digitally, most of it will simply disappear when no one rents it anymore — remember the sadness when the last digital copy of Sgt. Pepper was accidentally erased?

I have pulled out “A letter from 2020” many times in various conversations because it has addressed many topics, like it does today. Most recently I brought this out in a different forum to mock the idea that music and movies could be patented. (2nd to last paragraph)

Andyroo says:


As the nfl do not have this footage in their collection surely the only person that can claim copyright is the person that has it , or the person that created it, this is not about the game it is about a piece of film created and saved by someone with a bit of foresight or luck. And no way could the nfl ever claim copyright over it as they do not have a copy to produce to claim copyright over.

Would a court not laugh them out of the court if they could not produce what they are claiming copyright over.Surely the court must find that they deleted the only copy they had and that shows they were not claiming copyright over the video of the game as they destroyed all their copies.

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: copyright

Maybe if the copyright owner no longer has any copies, then their copyright should vanish in the puff of imaginary property smoke that it is.

Better than a court precedent would be to get this into the copyright law.

If it’s not worth saving, then it’s not worth protecting.

If it’s not worth saving, then you had no reason to believe it advanced the useful arts and science.

Rekrul says:

“Hi, NFL? I have a recording of most of the very first Super Bowl. I’d like to get it cleaned up, digitized and let people see it.”

“No, we own the copyright to that footage, but we’ll buy it from you for $30,000.’

“So I can’t show it to people?”


“OK then, I’ll just destroy the only existing video copy of the world’s first Super Bowl. I’m sure that the millions of football fans will be devastated when they learn that a copy of that existed, but that it could never be shown to them because of your copyright claim. I’m sure it won’t reflect badly on the NFL at all.”

“Umm, uh…”

bikey (profile) says:


Correct me if I’m wrong (but I have followed and taught this stuff for quite a while), but there is no copyright in ‘the game’ (as it is not a creative work belonging to anyone) and the owner of a film of the game belongs to the person who films it. If a broadcaster pays to film and broadcast, that broadcaster owns the copyright to what they have filmed, NOT what anyone else filmed. I think this is just bullying, which much of copyright is about.

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