Once a video goes viral, is it possible to make it disappear? That's what local San Francisco Fox affiliate KTVU is trying to do with a short YouTube clip of anchor Tori Campbell blankly reciting the racist names of fictional pilots who were supposedly involved in the Asiana Airlines Flight 214 plane crash earlier this month.
In the immediate aftermath of July 12's horrifying accident, which claimed the lives of three people (including a teenage girl who made it safely to the ground only to be run over by a fire truck), Campbell said live on-air that the flight's captains were "Sum Ting Wong," "Wi Tu Lo," "Ho Lee Fuk," and "Bang Ding Ow," oblivious to the fact that those aren't real Korean or Chinese names.
The otherwise vacuous prank was eventually traced back to a sophomoric intern with the National Transportation Safety Board, who according to the NTSB is "no longer [with] the agency." Yet how exactly the fake names found their way up through the chain of command at KTVU with nary an eyebrow raised is less clear, and possibly more disturbing.
The news station has since apologized for the gaffe, and is apparently attempting to scrub the spectacle from YouTube with a rather novel approach: By issuing copyright takedown notices. KTVU vice president and general manager Tom Raponi tells Mediabistro:
"The accidental mistake we made was insensitive and offensive. By now, most people have seen it. At this point, continuing to show the video is also insensitive and offensive, especially to the many in our Asian community who were offended. Consistent with our apology, we are carrying through on our responsibility to minimize the thoughtless repetition of the video by others." [MediaBistro]
Although it's dubious whether respect for the Asian community is a bigger factor than outright embarrassment, invoking the Digital Millennium Copyright Act is an interesting move. As Wired reports, under the DMCA, the owners of websites (Google, in this case) have an obligation "to remove copyrighted material at the rights holder’s request, or face the same potential penalties as the uploader." A lawsuit can carry damages as high as $150,000 per violation.
But as the video above mockingly illustrates, there are still copies of KTVU's momentary lapse in judgment sprinkled throughout YouTube, including the predictable smattering of unimaginative, auto-tuned remixes. Just how successful the news station will be with its DMCA takedown requests is unclear; the Streisand effect already appears to be in play, like a hydra-headed beast.
In fact, a compelling case can be made that news clips of public interest — however embarrassing — fall squarely under "fair use" protections, especially if the video is altered or contextualized. Just ask NBC Universal.