Internet rules of the road

Media biggies, minus Google, OK vid principles

A broad coalition of major players in online and traditional media signed off on a set of "collaborative principles" Thursday designed to grow online video while keeping unlicensed copyrighted material off the Web.

Headlining the agreement are CBS Corp., NBC Universal, Disney, Microsoft and News Corp.'s Fox Entertainment and MySpace. Video site Veoh Networks, which counts Michael Eisner and Tom Freston among its investors, and Paris-based video-sharing site Dailymotion also are on board.

Conspicuously absent is Google, parent company of YouTube, which Viacom sued in March for $1 billion for copyright infringement. NBC Uni later signed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the still-unsettled suit.

This week, though, Google announced an initiative using its technology designed to filter out copyrighted content on YouTube, with the search giant asking for the cooperation of all media companies.

A YouTube spokesman also confirmed that the company had been in talks with Disney about joining the group, but YouTube decided that it "would rather keep leading by example."

The spokesman said YouTube was "generally supportive of these types of efforts" but added that introducing something "that could become an industrywide mandate when the Web is still in its early stages could stifle innovation."

Said YouTube director of engineering Jeremy Doig: "We appreciate ideas from the various media companies on effective content-identification technologies. We're glad that they recognize the need to cooperate on these issues, and we'll keep working with them to refine our industry-leading tools."

With this agreement, though, other media and tech companies have committed to their own strategy in regulating content on the Web.

In a statement jointly released by the participating companies, they outlined mutually agreed-upon principles focusing on using technology to prevent copyright infringement on sites like Dailymotion that are a platform for user-generated content.

The companies agreed to collaboratively implement technology that would prevent the uploading of the content, remove it if it does appear on the site and identify and remove links to sites that are "clearly dedicated to and predominantly used for the dissemination of infringing content." The principles are available in full at UGCPrinciples.com.

"Today's announcement marks a significant step in transforming the Internet from a Wild West to a popular medium that respects the rule of law," NBC Uni president and CEO Jeff Zucker said. "By recognizing the mutual benefits of a technology-based framework to control piracy, technology and content companies have laid the foundation for the lawful growth of video on the Internet."

Added Veoh CEO Steve Mitgang, "Veoh firmly believes that industry cooperation like this is the key to encouraging innovation that benefits viewers, copyright holders and service providers alike."

Others chiming in with similar statements were Disney president and CEO Bob Iger, Fox president and COO Peter Chernin, Viacom president and CEO Philippe Dauman, MySpace CEO and co-founder Chris DeWolfe, CBS president and CEO Leslie Moonves, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Dailymotion executive chairman Mark Zaleski.

The Copyright Alliance, a nonprofit group that encompasses a wide range of major media companies focused on supporting the value of copyrights, also voiced its backing.

"It is exciting to witness the creative community reaching consensus with the tech community on reasonable rules of the road for online media," executive director Patrick Ross said.

Not everyone thinks that these principles are a positive development, though.

Gigi Sohn, president of "fair use" advocacy group Public Knowledge, noted that other big Web names such as Yahoo, AOL and Facebook were not included in the group and that the principles amount to nothing more than "lip service."

"Self-regulation starts with companies wishing to police their own behavior," Sohn said. "In this case, these so-called 'principles' are really demands imposed by companies other than most of those which host user-generated content."

Fair use refers to using a limited amount of unlicensed copyrighted material for the purpose other than it was intended, such as satire or commentary. Public Knowledge and other advocates argue that a set of guidelines could stifle this type of expression.
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