O.K., so it wasn't quite #GIFAGEDDON, as TechCrunch dubbed it. But that day in October, when Deadspin and SB Nation saw their Twitter accounts briefly suspended for sharing GIFs of NFL, college football and UFC contests, seemed to mark an inflection point: Leagues were paying attention to the expansive online peanut gallery where their copyrighted content is bandied about freely.

Fans tweet about typical NFL games upward of 300,000 times to an audience in the tens of millions, with many of those messages containing user-captured images and videos of live broadcasts. (Innumerable millennials first saw Odell Beckham Jr.'s latest circus catch in secondhand digital form.) A true crackdown on this not-quite-legal content would subvert much of the free buzz that propels games and plays into the public discussion.

Which is why it is not likely to happen. The future, suggests Kurt Wagner, an editor at tech website Re/code, could look something like YouTube's model, in which rights holders can earn revenue from ads placed against videos uploaded by third parties. Leagues are also partnering with Twitter to promote their own sponsored clips. Explains Wagner, "You've just gotta make sure everybody gets their money."