Copyright strikes cause independent CFL highlight YouTube channel to be taken down

Photo courtesy: CFL

One of the largest independent YouTube channels featuring CFL content no longer exists after the league recently claimed a number of its videos due to copyright violations.

Adam Stevens is the creator of CFL Mixtapes, a digital platform that features elaborately edited highlight reels of some of the league’s biggest stars. He has over 1,000 followers on Instagram, including a number of big-name CFL players such as Bo Levi Mitchell, Charleston Hughes, and Willie Jefferson.

The 14-year-old sources clips from TSN and the CFL to create his highlight reels, each of which takes between seven and eight hours to make. The Vancouver native started editing sports highlights in 2020 using clips from the NBA and NFL. Frustrated by a lack of viewership, Stevens briefly quit creating content until the 2021 CFL season got underway.

“Before then, I wasn’t really a CFL fan, I barely watched any,” Stevens told 3DownNation via telephone. “But in 2021, when I really started watching it, I really liked it and I saw that there was no videos on Instagram about it. I just started doing that.”

CFL Mixtapes originally started as a fan page for Lucky Whitehead and the B.C. Lions but quickly evolved to feature content from players around the league.

Stevens also posted his videos to YouTube, growing his channel to almost 500 subscribers and over 60,000 views. His channel was recently removed from the platform after three videos were given copyright strikes following content claims by the CFL. He was notified of the claims via email from YouTube and, as per the site’s regulations, his channel was removed from the platform following a third copyright strike.

The three videos that received strikes featured highlights of Nathan Rourke, Kenny Lawler, and Dalton Schoen. The CFL has posted highlight compilations of these same three players to its YouTube channel this off-season, which Stevens suspects could be the reason the league chose to file copyright claims on his content. The league did not offer comment regarding the situation.

Stevens has contacted the league through Instagram, Twitter, and email regarding the claims, though he has not received a response. Though he is aware that he had no legal right to the video clips he used in his edits, Stevens was hopeful that his content would help raise awareness regarding the quality of football the CFL has to offer.

“We need to let the world know how good the talent is in this league. It’s really under the radar,” he said. “Before I was a fan, I thought it was horrible league and the players weren’t any good. But no, there’s some really good players and people kind of started realizing that and I think this is a good way to show it.”

3DownNation spoke to league sources regarding the use of video footage by third parties and, though some see value in independent content creation, the issue of copyright can muddy the waters regarding what should be permitted for publication.

“I think it’s important to have people that are able to create that content. In some cases, it gets a little bit tricky with copyright and you see this across the NFL, too,” said one source who was granted anonymity.

“There are a lot of people out there that are independently making highlight tapes and they’re grabbing highlights off of broadcasters and that’s how they’re making all of their content. There’s sort of two perspectives on it: yeah, it’s great to have all this content out there but on the flip side there’s also intellectual property.”

The CFL launched a video database in 2018 and granted access to members of the media, allowing them to watch full games or specific plays using a number of search features. These clips can be downloaded to a local hard drive, though members of the media are prohibited from publishing them as part of digital content including social media.

“Where I’d like to see it go is maybe a channel like that partners with a team, they have content supplied, it’s licensed correctly and all that so that all the rights holders in the league and teams are happy. And it tells the story of some guys across the league,” said one source.

“CFL teams need to start looking at different avenues to tell the stories of our players, because that’s one thing that can sell tickets is fans being able to identify with a player that gets their attention. That’s a reason that people would attend a game.”

Stevens would be happy to abide by any rules created by the CFL allowing for game footage to be used in independent content creation. His account has always included a disclaimer clarifying that he is not affiliated with the league and would like to continue producing content featuring the game’s biggest stars.

“You’ve gotta allow more people to share it and not just have it on [the CFL’s] page,” he said. “Let it get more exposure, try to get the audience more involved, more people thinking that they’re more important because the CFL marketing, to me, is horrible. There’s barely anything.”

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.