College says football ‘hype’ videos were illegal, costs thousands

Published 8:57 pm Sunday, October 13, 2019

A Mississippi community college says football team videos that cost thousands of dollars violated copyright law and college policy, but the process has been reformed to make the videos legal and filter out profanity.

East Mississippi Community College President Scott Alsobrooks tells The Commercial Dispatch of Columbus that the Scooba-based college didn’t have copyright permission to weave clips from movies, television shows and rap videos in with football highlights in “hype” videos shown to the college’s nationally prominent football team in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

“This is certainly not stuff that should have been produced (by staff or paid contractors) and shown to our students,” Alsobrooks said. “It was inappropriate, and we’re still trying to get to the bottom of it.”

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East Mississippi’s football team drew national notice through the Netflix documentary series “Last Chance U.” The first two seasons of the series chronicled the Lions’ on-field success, as well as struggles of players to maintain academic eligibility and transfer to big-time college programs.

However, the college has been running a deficit and spending its reserves dry in recent years in part because it’s under pressure from heavy athletic spending, as The Dispatch has reported, leading Alsobrooks to cut budgets after he was hired in January.

The newspaper viewed the motivational videos in August at a lawyer’s office. Song lyrics, which are unedited, include racial slurs — such as dozens of uses of the N-word — and dozens of instances of graphic profanity, such as the F-word. Lyrics also reference multiple sexual acts, selling and using drugs, and one song specifically lists multiple gangs by name. In some highlight videos, the sound of a gunshot is synced with defensive players making a big hit.

The college has refused to release copies, citing copyright problems. The newspaper is filing a public records complaint against East Mississippi with the Mississippi Ethics Commission to obtain the videos.

East Mississippi paid one contractor more than $3,000 for production work in 2018, and paid less to others. Before then, college employees made the videos.

Alsobrooks said he understands the videos were shown only to the team during private meetings the night before each game during football season. They were meant for motivation. School officials also indicated similar hype videos were made for several seasons prior to 2016.

The college’s own policy prohibits college personnel or contractors from “viewing, storing, or distributing obscene, pornographic, or objectionable material,” among other things. It also explicitly addresses adherence to copyright law and licensing requirements.

Alsobrooks said, in his opinion, the hype videos through 2018 violated that policy. This season, he said, all video material shown follows copyright law and uses non-profane “radio edits” of songs.

“We had policies that were broken and we’ve had to deal with that,” he said. “… I think this started innocently enough, but (videography) people got better at it, and nobody put their foot on the brake as they should have.”

It is unclear how much head football coach Buddy Stephens knew about the videos or their content. He refused multiple requests for comment. Alsobrooks said he doesn’t believe the hype video issue has strained relations between him and Stephens.

Alsobrooks said he first learned about the videos when a Lowndes County supervisor Leroy Brooks confronted him about it in August. Brooks said a college trustee had shown him clips and he found the material inappropriate.