Google, YouTube take fingerprints

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Maybe Google’s chieftans read Mark Cuban’s blog before buying YouTube for $1.65 billion worth of stock. During today’s conference call with analysts and reporters, executives from Google and YouTube spent almost as much time talking about respecting copyrights as they did explaining how they’re going to turn YouTube into a real business.

I’ll leave the latter question to others. What made the copyright comments interesting to me were the hints of a split between what Google has been doing and where YouTube plans to do. The discussion was long on generalities about the importance of protecting intellectual property and short on specifics. The most concrete comments came from YouTube co-founder Steve Chen, who said the company’s engineers were working hard on improving the way users and content providers can identify the videos on the site through such techniques as audio fingerprints and metadata. This work should begin to bear fruit next month, by Chen’s calculation.


The eyebrow-raiser for me came from Google’s biz-dev chief David Drummond, who said that YouTube’s vision and commitment on copyright protection were very consistent with Google’s because both companies rely on the safe harbors provided under the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act. As Chen’s comments hinted, though, YouTube is moving away from basic DMCA compliance to the more proactive approach demanded by the major record companies and other content suppliers (for example, see the deals announced today between YouTube and Universal Music Group and Sony BMG). The DMCA simply requires companies to take down infringing material when a copyright owner complains. It’s passive, reactive. By contrast, a fingerprinting system would enable YouTube to filter out infringing material as soon as it’s posted or, better yet, identify and track it so copyright owners can share in whatever revenue it generates. The latter approach takes advantage of the viral marketing capabilities of the Internet; the former pretends that the rest of the Net doesn’t exist.

But then, even though Drummond’s remarks didn’t acknowledge it, Google is moving in that direction, too - witness the deals it announced today with Sony BMG and Warner Music Group. You might recall that the latter’s pioneering deal with YouTube broke new ground in several areas, including the use of fingerprinting technology. It remains to be seen if the technology works, but it appears that both Google and YouTube have accepted the terms offered by entertainment companies, and they’re willing to play by new rules.