If like me, you track the search term 'short film' in Google News, it would have been pretty hard for you to miss a headline like the one in this article (obviously missing my comedic addition) over the last couple of days. Damien Chazelle's much-heralded 'Whiplash' short (you know - the one that lead to the Oscar winning feature film of the same name!) was now online...or was it?
Spreading like wildfire over the internet, the short was picked up by some of the largest film, entertainment and news websites around - from film institutions like the BFI, to entertainment outlet Rolling Stone and UK newspaper The Independent - but had anyone stopped to ask the most important question about the film - is this a copy we should be sharing?
Some of you might be reading that last question and asking yourself another - why should I care? It's on YouTube...surely it's an official, verified copy! Writing for Short of the Week & Directors Notes and working in a Journalism department, one the most important things I've learnt as a journalist has to be to always check your sources - does this not apply to the world of online video and short film as well? As a journalist, would you share a copy or torrent of 'Whiplash' the feature film you found online or would you (rightly) question the validity of the copy?
Most short films find a home online in the end, but as with everything, this comes down to when the author or distributor of the piece decides to release it, not when someone outside of the production decides. So why did these such respected outlets decide to feature a film, that was so obviously an unauthorised copy (one click on the uploader's name would have revealed it wasn't official) - was it purely clickbait tactics, was it like a domino effect where one website covering it meant the others trusted its validity, or did they simply not care?
As someone who spends a lot of time writing about short films, in my early, inexperienced days covering the format, like most of the journalists featured here, I probably would have covered the Whiplash short as well - not giving a second thought to copyright. With experience now on my side - it isn't a mistake I'd easily make and one I'd be very apologetic for if ever I did (it seems like a very disrespectful thing to do to anyone involved in the production!)
Now removed from YouTube 'due to a copyright claim by Sony Pictures Entertainment' the sites that covered the short are now left in somewhat of an embarrassing predicament - a headline that states you can see Chazelle's film, but an empty black space featuring only a sad face where the short once was. What do they do? Take the article offline? Offer an apology? Nothing?
I'm sure many sites will leave the article up because of the traffic it will bring their way - but it would be nice to think that some would acknowledge their wrong-doing and at least make an amendment to their article. The widespread coverage of Chazelle's short will hopefully be a lesson to everyone involved, it's certainly one I'll be sharing with my students the next time we talk about online copyright and verifying sources.