NBC praises YouTube technology in keeping unauthorized Olympics videos off the Internet — is Viacom’s case against YouTube now toast?

News:  NBC Universal General Counsel Rick Cotton reports the amazing success of keeping unauthorized copies of NBC’s broadcast of the highly successful (Mike Phelpsian) OIympics in Beijing off the Olympics.  Cotton says that less than 1% of Olympics videos online were unauthorized. 

NBC used a 2 pronged strategy: (1) get other online providers to use digital fingerprint technology to filter out those Olympics video that didn’t have the fingerprint–Cotton says 80% of the success is attributable to this strategy; and (2) using Web crawling technology from Vobile to police the web for unauthorized clips, which allowed NBC to send DMCA notices to sites.

Cotton beamed about YouTube’s digital fingerprinting technology the most.  According to BusinessWeek, “By the way, Cotton says the most impressive automation occurred with YouTube. While the online video giant has had a reputation with many broadcasters for not doing enough to protect copyrighted content (not to mention a $1 billion lawsuit from Viacom), Cotton says YouTube worked closely with NBCU. Also, he says YouTube’s homegrown content recognition system worked effectively. This should come as a surprise to many of my sources, who were convinced that Google was doing as little as possible to perfect a technology whose reason for being is to keep content off its site. ‘The most extensive automation we had was with YouTube. Their system worked very well,’ says Cotton.”  (More)

Analysis: This evidence from NBC Universal provides a devastating blow, in my view, to Viacom’s copyright case against YouTube.  When coupled with the recent DMCA safe harbor victory for Veoh, NBC Universal’s backing of YouTube’s fingerprinting anti-infringement technology significantly bolsters YouTube’s defense that it goes above and beyond the DMCA safe harbor. 

I have to admit that I marveled at the lack of unauthorized Olympics videos on YouTube.  Now that NBC Universal has explained the amazing success of YouTube’s fingerprinting technology, Viacom and the other plaintiffs suing YouTube will be hard-pressed to argue that YouTube is not doing enough to combat copyright infringement.  The 2008 Olympics may turn out to be not only a huge victory for Michael Phelps, but also Chad Hurley and the team at YouTube.

I think a key lesson of NBC’s success in keeping unauthorized Olympics videos off the Internet is that copyright holders must share the burden in protecting their copyrights.  Yes, copyright holders must spend money to enforce their copyrights!  Too often in the rhetoric against YouTube some of plaintiffs seem to want to shift the expense of enforcement to YouTube.  The DMCA, however, always envisioned a sharing of that burden under a notice-and-takedown system.


4 Responses to NBC praises YouTube technology in keeping unauthorized Olympics videos off the Internet — is Viacom’s case against YouTube now toast?

  1. Brett White says:


    This is big news! I have been following the YouTube Viacom case for a little under a year now and the success of YouTube’s content recognition software seems to be a major blow to Viacom from an evidentiary standpoint. Of course Viacom will claim that it’s a knee-jerk reaction to the lawsuit, but I digress from why I’m writing this message…

    I am very interested in any information I can get concerning the content recognition software. I am writing a legal article on how such software might come to change the content providers strategy against secondary copyright infringement, particularly its effect on the ever evolving arms race for download-facilitating websites (Torrent sites being the latest incarnation).

    I would be forever indebted if you can send along any information you might have. Thank you so much!

  2. Jack says:

    Not remotely sure why this new technology would be a “blow” to Viacom’s case if they’re looking to be paid for infringements that took place in the past.

    It sounds like it could help protect YouTube now and in the future, but unless their filter includes some sort of time machine, I think you’re overstating this by quite a bit.

  3. Brett White says:

    YouTube has been developing the technology all along. It’s evidence that YouTube is affirmatively trying to prevent copyright on its server and is not materially contributing to it or inducing it. This helps YouTube afford themselves of the protections of DMCA section 512. The direct infringement claims against YouTube are unlikely to succeed as YouTube does not itself upload the content and their terms of service includes several warnings. Also, they have been steadily complying with take-down notices.

  4. Brett White says:

    errr…prevent copyright infringement…sorry.

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