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When Viacom sued YouTube in 2007, it alleged that the online video sharing site was liable for the presence of copyrighted content on its site, appearing without any compensation for the rights holder. YouTube continues to disagree (the case is still winding through the courts), but it also sought to avoid the debate by creating a new technology, Content ID. The software identifies copyrighted material that appears on the site, and it allows copyright holders to either block the content or else allow it to appear with advertising, such that they earn advertising revenue from YouTube anytime a user views that content.

Problem solved, right? Not so fast. In a recent investigation, The Wall Street Journal quickly and easily found illegal uploads of full-length feature films owned by several major studios, including Disney, Columbia Pictures, and Tristar. Apparently, none of these studios had made use of the Content ID service. As a result, famous films such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Peter Pan, The Three Faces of Eve, and Halloween had been available for extended periods, drawing millions of free and unauthorized views.

Although some illegal uploaders suggest they have found ways to get around the Content ID algorithms, the content providers could largely block illegal showings of their intellectual property. In that case, the question becomes why they don’t. Perhaps some studios fail to understand how to use the technology. Or maybe they simply forget to keep their monitoring up to date. Furthermore, Disney recently entered into a deal with Google (which owns YouTube) to offer rental services through YouTube, such that users can rent views of their feature films.

The Content ID service appears effective; it has identified more than 200 million illegally uploaded content packages on YouTube. The film industry expresses its concern about the problem of piracy. And YouTube has promised to help copyright owners find and block illegal access to their content. So why does it continue to be such a problem?

Source: Amir Efrati, “Reappearing on YouTube: Illegal Movie Uploads,” The Wall Street Journal, February 8, 2013

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