March 13, 2006 4:00 AM PST

Does video have a Napster problem?

It was a heavy-metal drummer who provided the defining moment for the original Napster and peer-to-peer music networks.

In May 2000, Lars Ulrich, the bombastic drummer for the band Metallica, personally delivered a list of 335,000 screen names of people suspected of music piracy to Napster's Silicon Valley office. With that giant stack of names came the beginning of the end for freewheeling music exchange services.

Fast-forward six years. The new threat in Internet-enabled copyright infringement is centering on video. YouTube, the most trafficked of the video-sharing sites, has recently been asked to pull three videos--two skits from NBC Universal's "Saturday Night Live" and an American Airlines training bit--from its site owing to possible copyright violations.

But what's going on with YouTube, which promptly yanked the videos when NBC contacted it, pales in comparison to the growing legal concerns about video peer-to-peer networks. Increasingly, it's looking like movie and television producers are heading toward their own file-sharing showdown.

"I think there is a fast and loose game being played by many people who are aggregating video online and selling advertising on their Web sites. And I think that there will be a day of reckoning," said Steven Starr, chief executive of Revver, a site that lets people distribute their videos and make money off ads when people watch them. "I don't believe you can build a sustainable business on copyright infringement."

So far this year, more than 50 people in the U.S. have been sued for allegedly swapping copyright movies online using peer-to-peer networks, according to the Motion Picture Association of America. Last month, the MPAA sued five sites that allow users to search for allegedly pirated files. It also sued file-swapping software provider eDonkey and several newsgroups, and shut down the Razorback2 file-swapping site network in Switzerland.

The spate of suits raises troubling questions for TV and movie producers, who, as more and more consumers buy the Net pipes necessary to bring in and send out video files, are reaching a crossroads their counterparts in music hit six years ago. About 67 percent of Americans who access the Internet at home now do so with a broadband connection, according to Nielsen/NetRatings. That's up from 31 percent five years ago.

"I don't believe you can build a sustainable business on copyright infringement."
--Steven Starr, CEO, Revver

Couple that with the popularity of TiVo digital video recorders and even software for recording video on the PC, as well as easy-to-rip DVDs, and the technology is there for a vast amount of video piracy. That doesn't mean "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy will start flipping around the Net like Metallica's "Unforgiven" did six years ago. But it does mean that short clips such as funny "SNL" skits or favorite moments from "The Simpsons" are ripe for the picking.

Like Napster, services such as eDonkey and BitTorrent provide technology that allows users to search for and access files over a peer-to-peer network. With newsgroups, also called Usenet, the files uploaded are stored in pieces on the Usenet servers around the world and not on individual computer users' hard drives, like with peer-to-peer.

The services are having a big impact on the Net. More than 60 percent of Internet traffic is being taken up by peer-to-peer swaps, and about 60 percent of those swaps involve video content, according to recent data from network infrastructure company CacheLogic. Though it's difficult to estimate how much of that video is pirated, analysts say it would be naive to believe most or even a great portion of it is legal.

As the music industry found out in the late 1990s, once that pirated material hits peer-to-peer networks, it's impossible to put a lid on it. And cracking down on the networks can be a futile effort, because many of them operate underground or are run out of countries without strong copyright protections.

Representatives for eDonkey could not be reached for comment. But a BitTorrent spokeswoman extended an olive branch to the MPAA. "I think we can play in the sandbox together," said Lily Lin, director of communications for BitTorrent. "We're working with the MPAA about finding a model where consumers can get the digital content they want in a legalized way."

Def snack jam

Last November, BitTorrent announced that the studios had agreed to notify BitTorrent if anything in their search engine infringed on their rights. In turn, BitTorrent would promptly remove it, said Ashwin Navin, president and co-founder of the San Francisco company.

"Our hope is that they would replace that material with content that they would like to see distributed by our technology," Navin said.

BitTorrent itself has never been sued, said Lin, but so-called BitTorrent trackers have been targeted. Trackers are not operated by BitTorrent. A tracker is a Web server operated by an individual that serves as one of many hubs--or coordination centers--used by the BitTorrent file-sharing protocol. Like other peer-to-peer networks, files are typically not stored on the tracker but on computers that connect to it.

So what to do about it? If you're the MPAA, you sue and sue again. "In general, we look for people who are using technology to facilitate online piracy for people on the Internet to get illegal files," said MPAA spokeswoman Kori Bernards.

CONTINUED: It's not all bad…
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38 comments

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Let the FREE movie revolution continue!
I am not justified by any means to get the freely distributed content on sharing sites, but since I am not the original distributor of the seed for sharing I am just purely obtaining a copy for my own home viewing.

The studios make enough money when the film comes out in the theater. Just look at the obscene ticket prices! I rest my case!
Posted by zincmann (153 comments )
Reply Link Flag
You're still just a common thief....
... and none of your 'rationalization' changes that fact in any way.
Why don't you just shoplift the DVD from the video store and save
all that download time?
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Link Flag
It certainly is theft
But it is not the same as stealing physical property. While it is definitely wrong and completely unethical, it is more akin to stealing a service, like stealing cable or making illegal free phone calls. Shoplifting DVDs is a bad analogy.
Posted by rzelazny (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Not theft...
It's not theft. It MIGHT be copyright
infringement, but it's not theft anymore than
it's embezzlement or assault.

Unethical? Probably, that depends on the
situation. A lot of content people trade is
stuff that's not commercially available, or
copyrighted material for which there's no
associated copyright holder (happens all the
time in the US, actually). Further, it depends
on what you use the work for -- were it for the
purpose of critical review, education, or to
further the public discourse, then it wouldn't
be infringing, but would it be unethical?

Receipt of a copyrighted work (such as
downloading it) is not actually an infringing
activity (in the US, so long as you don't also
distribute it or modify it), but does the fact
that it's legal make ethical? No.

The problem is that there's copyright law,
there's what media companies want it to be, and
there's what many consumers want it to be /
think it is -- and these are not the same.
Further, there is little intelligent debate on
the subject. The purpose of copyright was to
assure that authors could get their works
published, and that all works ultimately become
the property of society (originally, the idea
was that things would entire the public domain
within no more than 1/2 a generation so that
memory of the work would not fade from the
public consciousness). Copyright law as it
exists today serves media distributors very
well, but much less so the public or the
original authors/creators.

My guess is that the media companies will
continue to hemhorrage cash and push for
copyright enforcement regimes to the point that
it will become entirely unpalatable to the
general public (ask someone buying high-end A/V
equipment about their frustrations). At that
point, there will be some form of popular
backlash that will force a massive shift in
copyright law (or elimination of copyright
entirely).

The need for traditional copyright is more or
less gone today. It was never intended as a
revenue protection mechanism.
Posted by Zymurgist (397 comments )
Link Flag
The Little Mermaid
Here is a DVD that is no longer available to purchase. All the copies on eBay are illegal copies from China. Occassionally you will find an original Disney release which sales for $75+

So for a DVD that I can no longer buy, how is downloading it copyright infringement? If there is no available outlet to purchase, then there is no way to infringe.

There are countless movies and music that are out of print... so the only way to get a copy is by downloading it. You may call it still consider it theft, but given the situation, it' the only option and I have no issue with that.
Posted by SeizeCTRL (1333 comments )
Link Flag
Macs can't watch NBC videos
So far every article I've read on this subject mentions that the NBC
clips are available gratis on its website, but no one acknowledges
that you have to be a Windows user to view them there.
Posted by gekkoo7 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Doesn't work for all Windows users...
It doesn't even work for all Windows users. It
won't work with most browsers -- just 2 versions
of IE.

I always wondered why broadcast signals aren't
considered public domain. They are effectively
public domain for the duration of the
propagation of the signal, but that ends when
the signal has passed. Slow down the signal to
delay propagation? That's OK, time-shifting is
legal.

So where's the logic of attempting to thwart
distribution one you've ostensibly provided a
copy to everyone on the planet for free?
Obviously, not everyone will observe or record
the transmission when first made, but the fact
remains that EVERYONE "received" the
transmission once, and the transmission is still
propagating (perhaps not locally). So, what wee
are really trying to stop here is extemporaneous
perception of the broadcast already received
unless done by means of a device in your control
prior to transmission that was actively engaged
in recording the transmission as it passed the
point where the device was situated? I guess
that makes sense.
Posted by Zymurgist (397 comments )
Link Flag
Correction to Article Sidebar?
The article sidebar say "Music and television producers ...", but I think it should read "Movie and television producers ...".

mark d.
Posted by markdoiron (1138 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Cheating Is As American....
...as apple pie. Since some of you are already on your high horse you can go ahead and give your land back to the mexicans and native americans and pay back wages to the descendants of slaves. It's what Jesus would do.
Posted by Darryl Snortberry (96 comments )
Reply Link Flag
indeed
best comment of the article.
Posted by brian g--2008 (25 comments )
Link Flag
Winner.
You win the Internet.
Posted by just_some_guy (231 comments )
Link Flag
They are right!
You cannot just obtain a copy of a movie for your own viewing... when a movie starts they have a screen there where it says something like this: unauthorized distribution, copying of movies even without monetary gain is investigated by the FBI and is punishable for up to 5 years in prison and/or $250,000 fine...

so law is law, and that's why this whole thing can be napster # 2!

--

Stan Oleynick, founder: <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.enthem.com" target="_newWindow">http://www.enthem.com</a>
Posted by stansoft (16 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Don't believe everything you see on TV...
The copyright notice before a movie is somewhat
incomplete. It doesn't mention that the
copyright will expire, or that there are legal
exemptions, or that copyright may only cover a
portion of the work but not its entirety, etc.
Most people don't know what copyright is, how it
works, or why it exists. What they do know
typically comes from soundbites and propaganda
that intentionally attempt to confuse the
general public on the issue.

The law isn't very fuzzy. It's pretty clear --
anything you do with a work is legal save for
redistribution by copying and making a
substantively derivative work (well, that part
can be tricky), until a court tells you
otherwise. Ironically, making copies in and of
itself is not generally considered infringement.

A number of children's videos put out by Fox (I
think, who did "Robots"?) contain a terrifying
video set to hardcore music that flashes slogans
equating copyright infringement with theft and
associating it with drug use.
Posted by Zymurgist (397 comments )
Link Flag
i agree
totaly
Posted by (11 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I guess they've never heard of Google...
Check out Google Groups, it seems to be a sustainable business based on copyright infringement.
Millions of complete copyrighted newsgroup articles displayed without the permission of the authors
and used to sell advertising.
Posted by Jackson Cracker (272 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It's worse than Napster...much worse...
YouTube has more of a problem than many see. A tragedy that has been made possible through large sites like YouTube is copyright infringement. I have seen many users that do nothing but download other's videos and (successfully) claim them as their own ideas. This is much more tragic than a ripped-off Hollywood movie, which is easily discernable from a grassroots artist, as the small artists lose a substantial portion of their notariaty. In addition to reams of red tape one must traverse to remove a pirated video, YouTube makes no move to check for pirated videos from no-name artists. To me, that is much worse than multimillionares losing a little income.
Posted by PeterWard87 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
 

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