What’s so bad about a car crash video?

by Mathew on May 24, 2007 · 10 comments

Writing at eWeek, Steve Bryant says that the New Jersey Turnpike Authority is suing YouTube because video from the agency’s security cameras has been posted to the site showing a car crashing into a concrete barrier at a toll booth and bursting into flames. The driver — who according to one report had just been released from hospital after a seizure — was killed.

turnpike-crash.jpgA couple of things strike me about this case. It’s one thing for the Highway Authority to argue that the posting is a copyright violation, since it owns the footage, and obviously the agency is well within its rights to send YouTube and other sites like LiveLeak.com and Break.com a “notice and takedown” letter asking that it be removed. At the same time, however, doing so is — as others have discovered — a little like playing Whack-A-Mole, since new versions continually pop up elsewhere (including here and here). If anything, trying to take them all down makes them even more valuable.

The other thing that bothers me is that the agency seems to be arguing that watching this video is somehow wrong, or unsavoury in some way. Really? If it is, then so is watching the TV news on just about any given night. If slowing down to look at a car accident is wrong, then we are all wrong.

  • Stu

    I think it *is* pretty creepy / unsavory that someone would want to watch it. You like snuff films, too?

  • Mathew

    Did you watch it, Stu?

  • http://scrawledinwax.com Nav

    I think I’d disagree with you here Mathew. One of the most difficult aspects of the mass dissemination of media that the internet allows is the disjunct that occurs between images and that to which they refer when there is a lack of context. This video is, on one hand, simply a car crashing and, if played out in a movie, might be almost entertaining. On another, it is the filmic representation of someone dying. While one can obviously divorce the two if one wants, I don’t think it’s something we should encourage, at least devoid of explicit contextualisation. I understand that censorship is a difficult issue – one that I cannot claim to ‘get’ completely – but I don’t see how the distribution of this video achieves anything more fostering than a morbid sort of voyeurism that puts up yet another comfortable wall between the viewer and others’ pain and suffering.

  • Mathew

    That’s a fair point, Nav — and I don’t want to appear callous or unfeeling. But with a couple of exceptions, most of the sites the video was on mentioned that someone had died (which I think was relatively obvious). So I’m not sure how the video differs from watching the aftermath of a car accident or other crime on the news.

  • Stu

    No, I didn’t watch it. I get no gratification out of watching someone die. If I go in some gruesome way, I hope there are people out there who respect my earlier wishes or family wishes to not have it blasted all over the airwaves. Didn’t see a compelling public interest in the desire of some to gawk over the autopsy photos of the guy who died racing in NASCAR a few years back, either.

    And yeah, I do find being titillated over watching someone die to be extremely unsavory.

    P.S. I can’t stand rubberneckers. If you hear someone honking at you the next time you slow freeway traffic down to 15 mph while I’m running late for work just because you’re looking for some blood, well that’s probably me and just be glad that you didn’t get put in the ditch as well.

  • Mathew

    Fair enough, Stu. I didn’t get any “gratification” out of watching it, nor did I find it titillating in any way. It’s simple human curiosity.

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