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.