When the House Judiciary Committee hold its hearing, “Piracy of Live Sports Broadcasting Over the Internet,” tomorrow morning, we can be assured of two things: There’s going to be more sports banter than you’d ever want to hear from members of Congress, and Justin.tv CEO Michael Seibel is going to face some tough questions. The Committee hasn’t officially published the list of witnesses on its web site yet, but we’ve heard that Seibel is going to be testifying alongside representatives from ESPN, UFC and MLB, as well as University of Pennsylvania law professor Christopher S. Yoo.
Copyright has always been a touchy subject for live-streaming platforms like Justin.tv and its competitors, among them Ustream and Stickam. In fact, our own Liz Gannes argued previously that live streaming is challenging existing copyright laws, including the DMCA’s safe harbor provisions. However, Seibel, according to remarks the company shared in advance with us, plans to argue that companies like Justin.tv are able to tackle these challenges through fingerprinting and similar technologies.
Live streaming has become the latest battle ground between sports fans that don’t want to pay subscription fees and broadcasters trying to protect their content online. Boxing promotional company Square Ring sued Ustream earlier this year over alleged copyright infringement, and the British Premier League threatened legal action against Justin.tv. However, Seibel plans to tell members of Congress that live streaming isn’t all about sports and that Justin.tv is a content-agnostic platform provider. He’s going to insist that Justin.tv is covered by the DMCA, but also point out that it’s been cooperating with rights holders above and beyond the letter of the law to block and take down illicit content.
Justin.tv has been signing up rights holders for its Copyright Protection System that allows them to automatically take down content on their own without filing formal DMCA notices, and the company recently started to roll out its video fingerprinting in cooperation with Vobile to proactively block infringing content. Fox has been using this technology ever since Justin.tv launched in November, and NBC recently tested the system for the NFL’s Sunday Night Football game, according to Justin.tv. The company claims to be in negotiations with other broadcasters as well.
Of course, the real question is: What could Congress possibly do about all of this? It’s hard to imagine that tomorrow’s hearing will result in anything tangible. However, it could provide further backlash against the DMCA’s safe harbor provisions. These provisions are meant to protect hosting providers from being held liable for copyright infringements committed by their users, while instituting a notice and takedown regimen for illicit content. One recent example of the safe harbor provisions in action was Universal Music’s lawsuit against Veoh, which was thrown out because the video startup was shielded by the DMCA.
The entertainment industry has long argued that the DMCA is outdated. Proof that you can only combat live sports piracy with advanced filtering technologies could help to further their cause.