Vobile to Ustream: Don’t blame us for your Hugo Awards SNAFU

finger pointing

Looks like the story about Ustream taking down the live stream of the Hugo Awards isn’t over quite yet. Content recognition and filter provider Vobile shot back at Ustream today, claiming that it was never contacted by Ustream about the incident and denying that its technology was at fault for the take-down. “When used properly it has been proven to perform flawlessly,” Vobile CEO Yangbin Wang told me via email.

First, a quick recap: Last Sunday, the world of science fiction honored some of its best authors with the Hugo Awards. Thousands of people tuned in via a live webcast on Ustream, watching author Neil Gaiman deliver an acceptance speech, until the webcast was suddenly yanked offline and replaced with a copyright infringement notice. Annalee Newitz first covered the incident over at IO9, and goes into a lot more detail about it, but let’s just say: People weren’t very happy.

Ustream CEO Brad Hunstable responded the following day with a blog post, which basically blamed copyright infringement filters from content recognition specialist Vobile for the mishap. Hunstable’s post read, in part:

“(The take-down) occurred because our 3rd party automated infringement system, Vobile, detected content in the stream that it deemed to be copyrighted. Vobile is a system that rights holders upload their content for review on many video sites around the web. The video clips shown prior to Neil’s speech automatically triggered the 3rd party system at the behest of the copyright holder.”

Hunstable also claimed that Ustream’s team wasn’t able to restore the feed in time for the awards ceremony, even though it “almost immediately noticed a flood of livid Twitter messages.” He went on to say that Ustream has suspended the use of Vobile until it can recalibrate the filters’ settings.

Turns out, Vobile has a very different view of the incident. Here’s what Wang had to say via email:

“Vobile was shocked when it learned of the Hugo Award incident for the first time in the media, as no contact was made by Ustream through Vobile’s 24/7 customer support, or through any other direct channel, at any point during or after the webcast.”

He added:

“Vobile technology was not at the root of the problem. Our content identification system provides customers with accurate information. Each customer must decide for itself what it does with that information.”

He went on to say that Vobile would be willing to work with Ustream to investigate the incident further.

At this point, the back-and-forth may sound like a silly blame game, especially since the damage has already been done. But there is a bigger point here: An increasing number of video services find it necessary to use automated filters to protect themselves against lawsuits.

Unfortunately, those filters don’t know a thing about copyright exceptions, which are at the core of many of these disputes, but also key to parodies, news coverage and many other forms of journalistic and artistic expression. And if the video sites like Ustream don’t account for this, then they might as well give up on fair use altogether.

Image courtesy of Flickr user  Newtown grafitti.

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