Why not make Content ID more accessible and transparent?
Much has been written about YouTube’s Content ID program, a fingerprinting technology that allows rights holders to find and claim their music or movies when uploaded to YouTube. The technology was introduced in 2008 in the wake of Viacom’s lawsuit against YouTube and since then has helped (some) creators mitigate the problem of piracy on the popular UGC (user-generated content) site.
Those who have access to the Content ID system can uploaded reference files and use a dashboard to choose how matches should be handled. They can be limited based on audio, video, and length. Matching content then can be blocked, removed, or monetized based on territorial rights.
Facebook has been promising for some time to introduce tools that would allow rights holders to automatically detect and remove pirated content from its pages.
The company has endured a lot of bad publicity around the freebooting of viral YouTube videos on its pages, but Facebook’s also long been a place where pirated movies and music found a cozy habitat. That is–until now. I’ve recently begun to utilize this tool to manage Facebook DMCA takedowns and wanted to share my first impressions, but first a bit of background.
First of all, I’m thrilled that Facebook, with all its resources, has finally begun to take copyright infringement seriously. In introducing the new tool last month the Facebook development team explained why the company had finally stepped up:
A report in today’s Torrent Freak noted that content protection firm (anti-piracy) firm Muso recently released its annual Global Piracy Insights Report for 2016 so I was prompted to take a look to see what what’s new on the piracy landscape. According to the report there’s been a, “massive shift towards direct downloads for music content – growing by 31% in 2015” In addition the report found that “28% of all visits to piracy sites in 2015 were through mobile devises, up 8% during the year.”
Google’s updated piracy report offers the some well-worn excuses
It’s that time of year. The time of year where Google rolls out a shiny update on its “How Google Fights Piracy” report. Google began the tradition in 2013. At the time I noted that Google’s claim to be a “leader” in the fight against piracy was its first mistake. With today’s update, it appears the Silicon Valley giant hasn’t backed down from that dubious claim (or many others).
Katie Oyama, Senior Policy Counsel, Google asserts that, “We take protecting creativity online seriously, and we’re doing more to help battle copyright-infringing activity than ever before.” Yet, in spite of Oyama’s rosy quote, in truth the reality (for creators) battling online piracy continues to be a bleak one.
Yet again, women in Hollywood find themselves on the short end of the stick
A new infographic by Slated (an organization that filmmakers with talent, financing & distribution) first published in The Hollywood Reporter exposes a “a systemic lack of trust on the part of the film industry when it comes to collaborating with women in the workplace.”
The infographic’s authors used statistical analysis to look at 1,591 feature films released (theatrically) between 2010 and 2015 and published findings via an infographic.
Bias was documented not only by the woefully low numbers of female directors, but even in categories like supporting actors where only 41% of the roles were filled by women. While such inequality has been highlighted in previous studies like the Celluloid Ceiling Report published by researchers at San Diego State, Slated’s data analysis looks took another approach by asking, “how data science can best be harnessed to offset what is evidently a pattern of institutionalized bias at play in the marketplace.”
Doing the job, but not a very good job
When people talk about effective ways to mitigate the impact of online piracy, YouTube’s Content ID is often used as an example of what works. Unfortunately, despite its role as poster boy for anti-piracy tech, in reality it falls flat as a gatekeeper against online piracy.
Aside from a labyrinth-like user interface that seems likely to have been designed–not to help– but to discourage rights holders from using Content ID, the actual fingerprinting technology behind it can be easily fooled.
YouTube introduced the Content ID system in 2007. At the time, the company was facing pressure from a Viacom lawsuit, among others. According to YouTube, it’s pretty straightforward:
Videos uploaded to YouTube are scanned against a database of files that have been submitted to us by content owners. Copyright owners get to decide what happens when content in a video on YouTube matches a work they own. When this happens, the video gets a Content ID claim.
Looking to make money off work they don’t own, clever YouTube users have discovered ways to fool the technology so their illegal uploads of copyrighted movies and music don’t get flagged, blocked or removed.
I began noticing this phenomenon more lately as I’ve begun to find full, infringing copies of films uploaded that matched content owned by a film distributor I work for. This seems to be happening more often and I was curious as to how these pirated copies had avoided detected by Content ID. When I looked closely I saw that subtle manipulations in brightness had taken place along with slight adjustments to frame size and sometimes the crop of the frame.
When I started poking around YouTube to find other examples of these uploads they were easy to find. It only took me a few minutes to find dozens of copies of a variety of full copyrighted movies, old and new. One title I came across was the 2015 release, Everest. Below are screen captures from two different full uploads of the movie I found streaming on YouTube.
Time for YouTube to get serious about cleaning up all the junk, spam and malware files on its site
YouTube is great for finding videos about pretty much everything. Need to learn how to fix a furnace or use the latest camera equipment? There’s bound to be a video shows you how. Unfortunately, amid the useful stuff, YouTube is also chock full of garbage. The question is, with its massive technical resources, why doesn’t the site do a better job keeping house?
I’ve written before about the epidemic of fake “full-movie” uploads that fill YouTube. That was in 2012. Now, four years later, the problem still exists. Apparently, YouTube isn’t concerned that its pages are full of spam files, many of them fake pirate movie uploads that lead users to sites rife with malware and money-making scams.
These fake uploads, promising full copies of hundreds of films, both indie and mainstream, are easy to find. Go to YouTube, search for a specific film title using the term “full movie,” and voilà, most results will lead to garbage. These bogus uploads fall into two categories. Some offer links to other dubious websites while others are merely dummy files uploaded to generate advertising income (for the user and YouTube). Some do both.
Momentum is building for changes to the DMCA that will better protect creators
Content creators from all walks of life are coalescing around the need to update copyright law to protect their work against theft in digital age. A piece in yesterday’s NY Times, Music World Bands Together Against YouTube, Seeking Change to Law, is the latest to highlight growing calls by the creative community to update a woefully antiquated Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998.
YouTube users claim Fair Use as a defense for uploading full copies of pirated movies
There was a lot of talk about fair use and takedown abuse at last week’s the U.S. Copyright Office’s Section 512 roundtables in San Francisco. Many of those who spoke, bemoaned how poor, innocent uploaders were victimized, time after time, by malicious DMCA takedowns.
It’s a tried and true talking point, convenient, but disingenuous all the same. Some of us, myself included, tried to make the point that creators, whose work is routinely (and massively stolen), are often (doubly) victimized by malicious fair use claims.
I thought I’d share an example of this that occurred just this week on YouTube. On Tuesday a full-copy of the Swedish indie film “Kyss Mig” (all 147 minutes of it) was uploaded to YouTube by a user aptly named “Free Movies.” As an added flourish, the user-name included the notation, “free movies bitches.”
Hop aboard for another spin on Google’s DMCA Merry-Go-Round
It’s not news that Google-hosted Blogger websites are a favorite storefront for online pirates. It’s also not news that Google does its best to obstruct DMCA takedowns by setting up various roadblocks along the way. Today I discovered yet another example of just how difficult Google makes the DMCA process–this time with Blogger-hosted sites that use custom domain names.
When you create a blog using Blogger you’re given a domain that ends in blogspot.com. However users are free to use a custom domain name instead. That’s all well and good, unless the website distributes pirated content. In that case, if you’re a creator trying to get your pirated content removed (by Google), you’re likely to run into problems.
Usually, when one of these pirate entrepreneurs creates a site on blogspot.com a rightsholder can send a DMCA by using Google’s annoying web form (or annoy them by sending an email: firstname.lastname@example.org). However, if you use the same DMCA form to report a blogger-hosted site with a custom domain, Google won’t remove it. They’ll just send you back to the beginning.
Berkeley Law’s dubious study on copyright notice and takedown faces more scrutiny
Last month–a day before deadline for public comments on the U.S. Copyright Office’s study on the impact and effectiveness of the safe harbor provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”), section 512–UC-Berkeley School of Law and the American Assembly (via the Google-funded Takedown Project) released a study purporting to give a “broad picture of how section 512 notice and takedown works on the ground.”
A day after its release I wrote quick post highlighting some initial concerns with the study, but hadn’t had time to fully digest the entire 160 page report. Now, nearly a month later, others have taken the time to more carefully look at the study and uncover its (many) dubious findings. Kevin Madigan & Devlin Hartline scholars at the Center for the Protection of Intellectual Property (CPIP) have published a detailed response to study, “Separating Fact from Fiction in the Notice and Takedown Debate,” and note:
The study reads more like propaganda than robust empiricism. It should be taken for what it is: A policy piece masquerading as an independent study.