News Station Falls For April Fool’s Prank, Turns to DMCA As Remedy

This post originally appeared on Techdirt.

Improv Everywhere, a comedic performance art group based in New York, has a history of pulling off hilarious and impressive “scenes of chaos and joy.” Running “missions” such as the annual “No Pants Subway Ride,” a food court musical, sending 80 people into Best Buy dressed as employees and getting 200 people to “freeze” during rush hour in Grand Central station, these guys are masters of the flash mob and the harmless prank. Last April, in a mission called “Best Game Ever,” they showed up at a little league baseball game with signs, peanut vendors, programs and even an NBC sponsored jumbotron with live commentary and player stats to turn an ordinary event into something extraordinary.

Building on that theme, Improv Everywhere’s latest mission was to create the “Best Funeral Ever,” to pick a random funeral from the obituaries and show up to make it “truly awesome.” It sounds terrible, and the video is pretty horrifying… until you realize it’s from April 1st. The next day, they confirmed it was an April Fool’s joke and that it wasn’t a real funeral — all of the “family members” were actors. Lots of people fell for it (I definitely did at first), but best of all was the local CW 11 news team that covered the YouTube video as if it were a real funeral. Charlie Todd, founder of Improv Everywhere, uploaded a video of the newscast with the following commentary:

So basically the extent of their reporting is watching a video on YouTube and then describing it as fact on air. They didn’t bother to email Improv Everywhere for comment, call the cemetery to verify, or try to get a quote from the”family.” They just watched the video and threw it on TV. Great journalism!

The story was on the news channel’s website too, but was later removed without any explanation or correction. Now, two weeks later, Todd has received a copyright notice from YouTube that his video of the newscast was removed due to a copyright claim from Tribune (the station’s parent company). First of all, it’s pretty silly to try to hide the mistake rather than owning up to it and posting a correction (Streisand Effect anyone?). But beyond that, it’s pretty ironic and hypocritical that the news organization, which used the Improv Eveywhere video without permission or even proper attribution, would send a take-down notice to the owner of the that video who was commenting on their commentary. Todd writes,

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?

Fair use or not, Tribune just found a great way to draw more attention to the fact that their “journalists” fell for the prank and seem to be pretty embarrassed about it.

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