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MySpace’s DMCA enhancement

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Leave it to a News Corp. subsidiary to offer a middle ground between YouTube and Viacom. Today, MySpace announced that it would use technology from Audible Magic to stop users from uploading videos that had previously been taken down at the request of the copyright holder. This is a major boost to the power that copyright owners wield, and who knows? Maybe it will be enough to shift their attention from the courts to the marketplace.

MySpace has long struggled to keep its users on the right side of federal copyright law without driving them off to other social networks. It’s tricky business, given how many of its early users included songs and music videos on their MySpace pages. Last year it launched an audio filtering tool powered by Gracenote, and earlier this year started working with Audible Magic on a video filtering counterpart. Of course, its interest in these technologies was, shall we say, amplified by real or threatened lawsuits from copyright holders.

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The stakes of these cases are extremely high for both sides. Copyright holders want the courts to hold sites liable for infringement if they offer the public access to infringing music and video files, even if those files were posted by users, not the sites themselves. Failing that, they want the courts to require MySpace, YouTube and their competitors either to block infringing materials from being posted, or to police their sites and remove any material known to be infringing. Such obligations could be lethal to these sites because they would shift control away from the users, which is what made them popular in the first place. Meanwhile, YouTube’s lawyers want the courts to set rules that would absolve user-generated-content sites from liability as long as they promptly removed files that copyright holders identified as infringing. Such rules would leave the burden on copyright holders to make separate requests for every file that’s infringing, even the ones that are made from the same copyrighted song or video.

The new MySpace approach isn’t ideal from either side’s point of view -- it won’t stop the first instance of infringement, and its effectiveness at stopping repeat offenses remains to be seen, but it implies that MySpace is accepting some increased duty to police its users. Also, the new tool would only amplify the power of copyright holders to abuse the DMCA takedown process. But now that MySpace has taken this step, the pressure increases on YouTube to step up its long-discussed filtering efforts.


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