NEW YORK/SAN FRANCISCO – Top online video service YouTube will soon test a new video identification technology with two of the world's largest media companies, Time Warner Inc. (TWX) and Walt Disney Co. (DIS)
The technology, developed by engineers at YouTube-owner Google Inc. (GOOG), will help content owners such as movie and TV studios identify videos uploaded to the site without the copyright owner's permission, legal, marketing and strategy executives at YouTube told Reuters in an interview on Monday.
The so-called video fingerprinting tools, which identify unique attributes in the video clips, will be available for testing in about a month, a YouTube executive said.
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"The technology was built with the Disney's and Time Warner's in mind," Chris Maxcy, YouTube partner development director, said, adding that, since early this year, Google has been testing audio-fingerprinting tools with record labels.
These tools will be used to identify copyrighted material, after which media companies can decide if they would like to remove the material or keep it up, as part of a revenue-sharing deal with YouTube, which can sell advertising alongside it.
Once proven to work, the technology could be used to block the uploading of copyrighted clips, YouTube product manager David King said.
It aims to make the tools widely available to any copyright owner later this year.
YouTube has come under fire from several other traditional media companies, which say it has dragged its heels in offering reliable ways to identify video clips uploaded by regular users without permission.
Unable to reach a distribution agreement, MTV Networks-owner Viacom Inc. (VIAB) sued Google and YouTube for more than $1 billion in damages in March, charging the company with "massive intentional copyright infringement" after demanding the removal of clips of its popular shows "Colbert Report" and "Daily Show," hosted by comedian Jon Stewart.
Media companies have eyed the wildly popular video-sharing site as a mixture of opportunity and threat as they seek to reach consumers wherever they spend time.
On one hand, they view YouTube as a powerful promotional medium to drive viewers back to television or their own sites.
On the other, YouTube's traffic has soared as users upload copyrighted shows globally onto the service.
Nine months ago, YouTube said such tools would be made available to media companies for testing by the end of 2006. But the reliable identification of content has proved a complex task that required Google to develop its own technology tools.
Maxcy said other media companies planned to test the technology, but he declined to name these other parties.
"There are a couple," he said, referring to Disney and Time-Warner. "There are more that we can't talk about right now," he said.
YouTube officials said they have quietly been testing ways to help identify the audio tracks of video clips with major record labels using technology from privately held Audible Magic as early as the first two months of 2007.
These tools will be made available to all content owners later this year depending on the results of the tests, YouTube executives said on Monday.
"It's typically not something we talk about," Maxcy said, adding, however: "We wanted to clear the air."
Maxcy said that over time, Google planned to add additional layers of technology to better spot content on its service.