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Should YouTube Open its Video ID Index?

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YouTube yesterday launched its long-awaited copyright infringement antidote, a system that checks new video uploads against files submitted by copyright owners. The problem with the system is that it requires copyright holders — many of whom are upset at the company for not addressing their concerns a long time ago — to upload to YouTube’s secret index every single piece of content they want to protect. That way, the site can automatically take down any content that infringes on the media company’s copyrights.

Do you really think that’s going to happen?

YouTube’s index will only really work if it’s complete, and right now people are just too scared of — or ticked off at — parent company Google (GOOG) to make that happen. If copyright owners refuse to participate in this scheme, all Google’s years of work building an “extremely complex” image recognition program will be for naught. But what if YouTube made its index available as a publicly managed resource — not available to the public, but not controlled by big media enemy #1? Or made it, at the very least, a licensable database? Could that possibly earn enough goodwill to ensure that the new system becomes useful?

The new scheme may work for copyright holders friendly with YouTube, such as early partners Disney (DIS) and Time Warner (TWX), but there are quite a few who won’t be willing to play ball. The litigious Viacom (VIA.B), for example, doesn’t appear to be conceding any ground. “We are delighted that Google appears to be stepping up to its responsibility and end the practice of infringement,” Mike Fricklas, Viacom’s general counsel, said in response to yesterday’s news.

Think about how this is going to play out. What if such content-claiming systems become the norm? Will every video site rolls out a separate one of its own? Will those same content hoarders have to upload their content to every single site? That’s even less likely to happen.

Having the index is theoretically a competitive advantage for YouTube, which is already the clear winner in the space. Google sites had 38 percent of U.S. visitors to all online video sites in July, and enjoy similar strength internationally. But that advantage is moot if YouTube can’t get its enemies on board. Wouldn’t stingy content holders be far more likely to join in if YouTube’s content index were open?

4 Responses to “Should YouTube Open its Video ID Index?”

  1. Liz:

    I think this is a terrific idea. Google’s announcement still places too much burden on the copyright holder, who now has to provide all of their content to Google for this to work. The major media companies are unlikely to be willing to ship their content over to Google for this purpose. A better approach is as you suggest-provide a more robust access to the collection and better rules of engagement for determining infringement and takedown/staydown. Failure to take this step still seems to leave Google vulnerable to ultimately losing the DMCA safe harbor they believe they are operating under, until the courts decide otherwise.