The battle against (and for) GIFs is one that comes and goes depending on the season.
UFC is really the only company in pro wrestling and MMA that seems to have a stranglehold on taking down the images, which are soundless bitmap images that work as a virtual flipbook and are easily digestable on social media. This week, New Japan Pro Wrestling also entered the fray.
Popular GIF producer @BulletClubItal had his account suspended, while a DMCA takedown notice was send the way of @MrLariato. The former received no such notice, and his account was removed from Twitter. The takedown notice came from someone within New Japan Pro Wrestling directly, as opposed to TV Asahi or Bushiroad, who often are responsible for copyright claims on videos that infringe on the company's content on Youtube,
Fightful reached out to New Japan Pro Wrestling, but haven't heard back, but this is hardly the first time pro wrestling companies have sought to protect their content by going after GIF creators.
"It has happened a couple times in the past with WWE around SummerSlam 2-3 years ago (whenever the purge happened that got DeathToAllMarks and other accounts taken off Twitter) and once with an Evolve show before WWN enacted their official GIF policy. I've never run into it with NJPW, though... but I haven't been posting content from their shows this week because I've been tied up with other stuff. Their NJPW Global account has actually retweeted some GIFs of mine in the past from ROH shows that NJPW talents were a part of," said the operator of TotalDivasEps, the most followed wrestling GIF account on Twitter.
TDE weren't alone. WWE went heavy after GIF creators two years ago, but have since eased up, and even sent media a link to GIFs they'd made themselves in promoting Smackdown 1000 earlier this year.
"My old account got suspended after SummerSlam 2016 - the difference then was that it was a 3rd party anti-piracy company based in the UK who were working on WWE's behalf. I always assumed they were a bit over-zealous, as WWE haven't gone after any GIF accounts since to my knowledge," said @MrLariato.
Fightful was able to obtain copies of the DMCA notices, which state "We uploaded and published the video of the above pro-wrestling entertainment organized by our company on our official paid video distribution site, and it infringes our copyrights seriously." When asked about the takedowns, @TotalDivasEps was quick to say that's well within New Japan's rights, but maybe not their best interests.
"The content belongs to New Japan, TV Asahi and their media rights holders, and it’s theirs to protect how they see fit. However, I think there has to be some consideration that people like MrLARIATO (and Showbuckle, who had some excellent videos on YouTube removed by copyright strikes) have played a role in helping to popularize New Japan in the west. I can’t even imagine the dollar amount that could be placed on the publicity NJPW gained through Lariato’s GIFs of the Ospreay/Ricochet BOSJ 2016 match taking over the Internet for a week. There are a lot of moving parts involved, and the language and cultural differences makes things even more complicated, but I hope NJPW can at least be persuaded to enact some kind of clip sharing policy that protects the value of NJPW World while also allowing fans to help spread the word on their product," @TotalDivasEps continued.
While GIF accounts are quick way to develop a following, several we spoke to said there's virtually no money in it. Fightful.com also spoke to a New Japan wrestler on the condition of anonymity who said that the company's move is the latest in a line of mistakes restricting their growth in North America, echoing the sentiments put forth by @TotalDivasEps.
The argument is to be made that the content exposes fans to things they'd otherwise never see. However, there is no argument that said content belongs to the copyright holder and is theirs to do with as they see fit. When polling an audience on Twitter, many reacted in kind -- and on each side of things.
Fightful.com will have more on the story as it develops.