Troy Haupt of North Carolina owns the only existing copy of the very first Super Bowl, the Green Bay Packers’ 1967 win over the Kansas City Chiefs.
At the time, the game was broadcast live on CBS and NBC, and while it might sound ridiculous nowadays, neither network had any sort of archival policy, and the NFL did not keep a copy of the broadcast. The broadcast was long thought to be lost to the ages. Indeed, the only reason any recording of the first Super Bowl recording exists at all is that Haupt’s father taped the live broadcast on a Quadruplex machine almost 50 years ago.
And the NFL is gnashing its teeth about it.
This 2005 Sports Illustrated article, acknowledging then that no known copy of the game exists, pegged the value of such a hypothetical tape at more than $1 million. Once Haupt’s tape was found in an attic, he asked the NFL for $1 million for it. They declined, countering with $30,000. There was no deal.
Although the video is mired in a rights purgatory, that hasn’t stopped it from making it to YouTube:
Thus we are introduced to the great complexities of copyright law: While the NFL owns the content on Haupt’s tapes, Haupt owns the objects themselves. If the NFL declines to buy them, he is not allowed to sell them to anyone else — he’d be profiting off of content that is not his from which to profit.
In case you don’t have a former media studies student on hand to get all preachy about things, let me be the one: Intellectual property law is generally fraught and loaded with gray area. There are hard and fast rules to certain components of who is allowed to make money off of ideas and content, but lawyers making the right arguments can strongly sway things in their client’s’ favor. And the NFL can afford some pretty expensive lawyers.
Rather than part with any amount of money to own the historic (and long thought to be nonexistent) copy of the broadcast, the NFL put together something of a reconstruction of the first Super Bowl from highlight reels. The message to Haupt was clear: We don’t need your stinking tape. Despite the fact that the sports mega-corporation generated $7.3 billion in 2014 and could not be bothered to archive the original broadcast of its inaugural Super Bowl back in 1967, the NFL is sending letters in harsh legalese to Haupt, suggesting he’ll subject himself to all kinds of penalties if he sells the tape.
Steve Harwood, the lawyer representing Haupt as he tries to make something of the surreal good fortune of owning this tape, seeing it restored by the Paley Center and maintaining communication with the NFL, gets letters that read, in part, like this:
“Since you have already indicated that your client is exploring opportunities for exploitation of the N.F.L.’s Super Bowl I copyrighted footage with yet-unidentified third parties, please be aware that any resulting copyright infringement will be considered intentional, subjecting your client and those parties to injunctive relief and special damages, among other remedies.”
The implication of that statement is that if Haupt should sell the tape and its contents somehow make their way onto the internet, the NFL will go after Haupt regardless of if he had anything to do with it. Good grief.
“It’s awesome to have the tapes, but it’s frustrating that we can’t do anything with them,” Haupt told the New York Times. “It’s like you’ve won the golden ticket but you can’t get into the chocolate factory.”