Tuesday 12 February 2013

Online piracy, Content ID and the role of intermediaries: is this the right direction?

A few days ago the Wall Street Journal - this serious blogger's favourite and only (well, sort of) publication in her spare time - published an interesting article discussing the presence of illegally uploaded films on YouTube and asking a question which also 1709 Blog readers might have had for some time now: why isn’t YouTube's Content ID used by rights owners as widely as one might expect to identify and block illicit contents from YouTube?

As explained on the relevant page, since 2007 YouTube has made available for free use an advanced set of copyright policies and content management tools to give rights holders control of their content. Content ID allows rights owners to:

·         Identify user-uploaded videos comprised entirely or partially of their content and
·         Choose, in advance, what they want to happen when those videos are found. Make money from them. Get stats on them. Or block them from YouTube altogether.

Rights holders deliver YouTube reference files (audio-only or video) of content that they own, metadata describing that content, and policies on what they want YouTube to do when a match is found. YouTube compares uploaded videos uploaded against those reference files, and applies the requested policy: monetise, track or block content.

According to the latest Content ID statistics,

·         Content ID scans over 100 years of video every day
·         More than 3,000 partners use Content ID, including every major US network broadcaster, movie studio and record label
·         YouTube has more than eight million reference files (over 500,000 hours of material) in its Content ID database; 
·         Over a third of YouTube's total monetised views come from Content ID
·         More than 120 million videos have been claimed by Content ID.

Apparently, however, these numbers are not high enough. According to the Wall Street Journal, illegally uploaded copies of well-known films such as Disney's animated classics (including "Peter Pan," "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," and "Fantasia") have been available on YouTube to watch for as long as a year.
While the conditions under which liability of intermediaries such as YouTube may arise under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act have been recently clarified in a landmark decision of the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (on which see Ben's posts here and here), and YouTube has recently implemented a new appeals process to dispute Content ID claims (here), piracy levels remain high on platforms like YouTube.
While video scanning is not effortless,
it has to be graceful

"Hit one, countless others appear. Quickly. And the mallet is heavy and slow" summarises the New York Times.

For example, to get around Content ID, some YouTube users have started placing copyrighted videos inside a still photo of a cat that appears to be watching an old JVC television set. The Content ID algorithm has a difficult time seeing that the video is violating any copyright rules; it just sees a cat watching TV.

Besides this, rights owners have been increasingly involving intermediaries in their fights against online piracy. Just think about the high and growing numbers showed in the Google Transparency Report or the implementation of the so called 6-strikes enforcement plan in the US (herehereherehere ...). 

But does all this work?

Do you need magic to contrast online piracy?
Perhaps some
Fantasia is required first ... 
According to the co-director of Fight for the Future, "There’s a clearly established relationship between the legal availability of material online and copyright infringement; it’s an inverse relationship ... The most downloaded television shows on the Pirate Bay are [were?] the ones that are not legally available online.

While rights owners are having a tough time in curbing online piracy, and infringers themselves are finding new ways to get around piracy detectors, this blogger ventures to say, not only (and very originally indeed) that "the answer to the machine is in the machine", but also that the most effective way to contrast piracy would be to develop innovative services which allow users to enjoy copyright-protected materials legally, but also easily and at a reasonable price. Is this too banal? Yes, but it seems that not everybody has got it yet …


Unknown said...

You're echoing what Disney CEO Bob Iger said 6 years ago: "The best way to combat piracy is to bring content to market on a well-timed, well-priced basis." Isn't it astonishing that the entertainment industry still hasn't learned that lesson!

Reference: http://news.cnet.com/disney-invites-stars-onto-ces-stage/2100-1026_3-6148383.html

Matt Lonsdale said...

I'm actually astonished to see such a comment coming from a Disney CEO, considering their penchant for putting films in the "vault" and only making them available for purchase every few years.

Anonymous said...

It can appear that a lot of movies get pirated because they aren't online yet - they are for sale or rent as DVD's instead, making money for the people who made the film, at a fair price to consumers.

Aside from that, it is simply a lie to claim that the most downloaded music and video is the most unavailable. No study is needed, a cursory glance at which movies and songs have the most seeders and leechers shows that they are simply the most popular and the newest.

It could be only a coincidence that they are not available on the streaming services yet.