Reasons the IOC shouldn’t have banned gifs at Rio 2016

Reasons the IOC shouldn’t have banned gifs at Rio 2016

You’ve probably noticed something missing if you’re following the Olympics online.

We’ll save you some time. It’s gifs: The lifeblood of the internet, a new way of expressing ideas and the next step along from emoji when it comes to visual communication online.

They’re central to the online lexicon, and they’ve been banned by the IOC.

The IOC guidelines for news organisations. state: “Additionally, the use of Olympic Material transformed into graphic animated formats such as animated GIFs (i.e. GIFV), GFY, WebM, or short video formats such as Vines and others, is expressly prohibited.” 

Even Buzzfeed, famed for their gif usage and the occasional accidental violation of property rights have been shackled by the ban. This screengrab is from their coverage of comedian Leslie Jones’ Olympics tweets:

Buzzfeed Leslie Jones Olympics coverage

Even sharing videos of the action taken by someone else is shaky territory.

So, why the ban?

That’s the question. The IOC are completely within their rights to ban people interacting with their brand, but their reasoning is faulty.

The wording implies that the conversion of footage into a gif is somehow taking away from Olympic material and the broadcasters who pay to show it.

TV networks pay a lot to cover the olympics – and they want to protect their rights. But (and maybe this is just us) we’ve never met anybody who had their desire to sit down and watch the Olympics completely satisfied by a 6-second Vine. Or even 20 6-second Vines.

Have you?

Realistically, gifs don’t translate into a loss.

Here are some reasons not to follow the IOC’s lead:

That’s not how things work anymore

It’s perfectly possible (even likely) that a gif or Vine from the Olympics could go viral, plateau and die before the IOC even got its legal team together to battle the violation.

Internet popularity can live and die in a matter of hours – traditional media (and multi billion pound coverage rights) are unlikely to lose their foothold and, if anything, could benefit. A gif that prompts the reaction: “Wow, I didn’t know people could bend that way…” could easily turn into an evening spent watching gymnasts on TV.

They’re stifling the conversation

As the international sporting event with the broadest reach, the Olympics is naturally the subject of a lot of conversations.

On social media gifs function like punctuation, tone of voice or any other element of speech and often as shorthand for a more complex idea. Banning them outright is to completely misunderstand their usage – they are part of a conversation, not a replacement for broadcast media.

People are probably going to make them anyway

It’s unclear whether or not the IOC will pursue individuals who make Olympic gifs. Or whether or not a news broadcaster would be in violation if they used a gif made by an individual rather than one they made themselves. Buzzfeed are apparently erring on the side of caution – they chose not to share Leslie Jones’ videos after all – but it’s not clear what would happen if they didn’t.

The IOC are a good lesson in what not to do – approaching social media as the enemy is akin to approaching your audience like the enemy.

This policy makes little sense – on the surface it’s protecting the rights of broadcasters, but in practice benefits nobody and stifles the conversations that bring the Olympics alive.

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