YouTube and copyright infringement

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Richard Tur, who filmed the Reginald Denny beating is suing YouTube for distributing his footage:
Robert Tur says video he shot of the beating of trucker Reginald Denny during the 1992 Los Angeles riots was posted at YouTube without his permission and viewed more than 1,000 times. Tur says in his lawsuit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court, that YouTube is profiting from his work while hurting his ability to license his video.

"Mr. Tur's lawsuit is without merit," YouTube said in a statement. "YouTube is a service provider that complies with all the provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), and therefore is entitled to the full protections of the safe harbor provisions of the Act."

Passed in 1998 to protect copyright holders from technology that facilitated piracy, the DMCA also offered protection to Web service providers by limiting their liability in cases where their customers were found guilty of copyright violation.

Those in the video-sharing sector have for months expected someone to challenge YouTube in court. The San Mateo, Calif.-based company lets users post videos to its site without prescreening them, and a staggering amount of copyright video exists on the site. YouTube prohibits the uploading of such material but has also benefited in the past when someone has posted a professionally made clip that catches fire with the public.

Copyright infringement on public content sites like YouTube and Google Video--like pedophiles on MySpace is--hard to tackle. The problem in this case is that it's really hard for the site to identify copyrighted material. It's true that YouTube scrubs their site for pornography, but only a small fraction of unauthorized material is as easy to identify as porn. Sure, you know that when you see the Daily Show on YouTube it's probably not owned by the person who uploaded it--though did Comedy Central authorize it or not?--but what about some random music video? It's not like YouTube has a copy of everything that's ever been copyrighted.

The regime imposed by the DMCA implies that it's the responsibility of the copyright holder to somehow monitor these sites. This is more practical in some sense since they at least know what they have, but that's not really practical either. It might be possible to write a tool that did this kind of search for each copyright holder, but you're talking about a pretty significant bandwidth and computational cost. It's certainly well outside the capabilities of your average home videographer. That said, I don't know that much about video search. Do any readers have a sense of what it would look like to do a fuzzy search of millions of hours of video against every video on YouTube?


Wait, why would you need to do a video search?

If the problem is that people search YouTube for keywords like "Rodney King" or "Daily Show" and find a copyrighted video, then YouTube or the copyright holder would just need to run the same keyword search (possibly followed by a fuzzy match on the video results).

Is there a current or anticipated problem with people posting on a some other site that, for example, the Rodney King video can be found on YouTube under the keywords "yendor pcp"? Even then, wouldn't it be enough to text-search or monitor the sites listing such obscure or fake keywords?

From my knowledge, doing good (or even OK) video search is next to impossible. Even image search is hard - most image search engines (at least a couple of years ago) just use the keywods associated with the images.

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