Web, Media Giants Seek Silver Bullet for Protecting Copyrights Online

A group of heavy-hitting media and Internet players have hammered out a plan to thwart the uploading and Web publication of copyrighted material, particularly video clips.

Key to the plan’s effectiveness is technology that will determine if content being posted to Web sites, such as MySpace and Veoh, is copyright protected.

The companies — CBS, Dailymotion, Fox Entertainment, Microsoft, MySpace, NBC Universal, Veoh Networks, Viacom and Walt Disney — joined to express support for the “set of collaborative principles.”

Missing from the mix was Google, the owner of YouTube, and Time Warner. Viacom is suing Google over the appearance of copyrighted material on YouTube.

Keeping It Legit

The principles are designed to help user-generated content (UGC) services and creators cooperate to bring “more content to more consumers through legitimate channels,” according to the collaborators. In doing so, the companies who crafted the plan said the rights of those who hold copyrights must be respected and protected.

The principles include the use of filtering technology that has the potential to virtually eliminate unauthorized posting of copyrighted content. The identification technology is based on the use of “reference material” included in original versions of copyrighted material.

Sites should use the technology to block “user-uploaded content that matches reference material,” says the plan. However, it adds that copyright holders can dictate whether they will allow unrestrained posting of their content.

Room for Human Involvement

Acknowledging that technology isn’t perfect, the guidelines call for human intervention if necessary.

“UGC services may, at their option, utilize manual (human) review of all user-uploaded audio and video content in lieu of, or in addition to, use of identification technology, if feasible and if such review is as effective as identification technology in achieving the goal of eliminating infringing content,” says the document.

The guidelines call upon the publishers to use the new technology to not only control the new unauthorized posting of copyrighted material but also to scour their sites “at intervals that are reasonably timed throughout each year” to erase offending material that was posted before the reference material was provided.

The companies involved in the pact also want sites that remove infringing content to notify those who attempted to, or managed to, illegally upload the material.

Not Just Passive

The pushing back doesn’t end there; the plan calls upon the publishers to retain for 60 days information about all user uploads “including Internet Protocol addresses and time and date information for uploaded content.” This information will be provided to copyright owners.

“UGC services should use reasonable efforts to track infringing uploads of copyrighted content by the same user and should use such information in the reasonable implementation of a repeat infringer termination policy,” adds the guidelines. They say publishers should use try to stop repeat offenders through measures that include “blocking reuse of verified email addresses.”

The plan requires efforts to balance “legitimate interests, including fair use” and seeks cooperation in creating methods of addressing complaints about erroneous blocking. Assuming there will be sites that attempt to circumvent the effort, the consortium calls for “identification and removal of links to sites that are clearly dedicated to, and predominantly used for, the dissemination of infringing content.”

On Board by Year’s End

The companies “believe that they can collectively find a path that fosters creativity while respecting the rights of copyright owners” and they blame those who illegally post copyrighted material with stifling “technological innovation and artistic creation in ways that ultimately will hurt the consumer and hinder the digital economy.”

The group’s goal is to have all the principles implemented before the end of the year.

While Google executives are reportedly thinking about cooperating with the consortium, they seem determined to use their own content identification system for YouTube. Announced Tuesday, the system allows content originators to protect their material with a digital “hash” that will prevent others from unauthorized postings.

The initiative might not succeed without the participation of Google and other big entities, Greg Sterling, principal at Sterling Market Intelligence, told the E-Commerce Times.

The Power of YouTube

“Getting YouTube, the No. 1 online video site, as well as Yahoo, another major video provider, to participate is critical for the ultimate success of the initiative,” Sterling said. “The site owners may have entered into this arrangement to help create a framework to avoid litigation for potential infringement, which is a big distraction for everyone.”

Google’s YouTube solution will end up being the answer, postulated Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

“This is a battle between Google and an impressive number of other companies and it showcases the difference between a proprietary dominant vendor and a cross vendor standards approach,” Enderle told the E-Commerce Times. “Google’s solution is cooked while the consortium is still working in the recipe for a solution and doesn’t have all of the players on board to make it stick even if they were to finish it.”

“The preferred solution is always a common open standard,” Enderle acknowledged, but he said Google may be big enough to make its solution “standard in the vacuum,” meaning the consortium’s plan would become redundant.

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