May 11, 2007 10:53 AM PDT

New MySpace copyright tech turns heads, raises brows

Faced with the looming threat of more legal action, MySpace announced Friday that it has begun implementing new technology to combat members' unauthorized use of copyrighted content.

Aptly titled "Take Down Stay Down," the new feature is a content protection measure based on Audible Magic technology. The company says this will ensure that video content that has been pulled from MySpace member profiles at the request of copyright holders cannot be re-posted.

"We have created this new feature to solve a problem that has long frustrated copyright holders and presented technical challenges to service providers," said Michael Angus, executive vice president and general counsel for Fox Interactive Media--the division of parent company News Corp. that includes MySpace--in a statement Friday.

Copyright owners have access to Take Down Stay Down free of charge, according to a release from MySpace. If the social-networking service receives a takedown notice regarding a copyrighted clip hosted through its MySpace Videos hosting service, MySpace's new feature will take a "digital fingerprint" of the video and add it to a copyright filter that blocks the content from being uploaded again. "(It's) the ability to have a piece of content imprinted and put in a database so we can identify it," said Vance Ikezoye, CEO of Audible Magic.

MySpace instituted its first audio filtering system last fall and began testing out Audible Magic's video filtering technology in February. NBC Universal and Fox participated in this pilot program, along with Universal Music Group, which had sued MySpace late in 2006 over the copyrighted songs and videos that were embedded in many a MySpace profile. But what's new with Take Down Stay Down, according to MySpace, is the set of tools that enables copyright holders to flag content with a few clicks so that the social-networking site can add it to a MySpace-specific layer within Audible Magic's database.

"It certainly is true that with every form of digital rights management that we've ever seen, it always gets hacked eventually, so I think it's likely that eventually this too will be hacked."
--Corynne McSherry, Electronic Frontier Foundation attorney

"Obviously, MySpace is saying we've got to be using a stronger technology that not only takes down the accused material, but also ensures that it never gets put back up again," said Randy Lipsitz, a partner with the New York-based law firm Kramer Levin. "From a copyright point of view, and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), I think that's a good thing."

MySpace isn't the only site that's been addressing ways to make it easier for copyright holders to pull their content. Google, parent company of the legally embattled YouTube, announced at its shareholders' quarterly meeting on Thursday that it would be testing out a set of tools called "Claim Your Content," which would similarly automate the takedown process.

How to deal with the online video problem, meanwhile, was a hot topic on Capitol Hill this week as Congress met with the CEOs of companies like YouTube, Slingbox and TiVo to address the problem of sharing copyrighted content--among other things.

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But even though Google's and MySpace's new tools might alleviate some of the copyright issues that have become more and more rampant in recent months, some digital freedom experts are concerned that an automated system may end up being too rigid.

Corynne McSherry, a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said that taking the human factor out of video filtering may mean that some content may be unduly blocked.

"There's a general problem with automatic filtering technologies, and I think we know about that," McSherry explained. "The concern that I would have is, for example, it's contested as to whether or not that content is infringing at all. I'm not seeing any process here that allows for that."

Whether MySpace has put specific protocols in place for reversing takedowns is unclear. The social-networking site claimed that it would be highly unlikely that content would mistakenly wind up in the filter in the first place, and that if it did, it would be removed--but would not elaborate further.

"If you want to build in a digital fingerprint, you need to have a backstop, you need to have safeguards," McSherry said. "If there's a counter-notice with respect to a particular piece of material, this automatic digital fingerprint should be removed because it may not be applicable there. At the very least, a human should make the decision."

Will it work?

And then there's the issue of how well it will actually work, or if MySpace is just trying to save face. Cynical observers might be quick to ask how soon clever hackers will figure out a way to work around or even completely circumvent the "digital fingerprints." According to Ikezoye, it's not going to be easy because Audio Magic's patented technology is more complicated than simply generating a "hash value" for a file.

"A fingerprint is much more robust at identifying the content. Hashes identify files," he explained. If a Colbert Report clip were pulled at Viacom's request, for example, MySpace's filter would block all other forms of the file from MPEG to AVI, all various degrees of quality, and even video clips that contained only part of the content from the piece that had been taken down. "We simulate the human perception of the same content," Ikezoye said.

And to circumvent the filter, he added, a hacker would have to "screw up the content itself so it wasn't recognizable," to a degree where it wouldn't even be worth uploading in the first place.

But given hackers' long history of being able to get through just about anything, experts remain a bit skeptical.

"It seems to be that as secure as something is, there seems to be a way to get around it," attorney Lipsitz said. "It's always a challenge, which is why companies have to be vigilant in dealing with these new ways to get around locks and other provisions that are put on to prevent this type of activity."

In other words, just because it's developed an ostensible solution for its copyright woes, MySpace won't be able to rest easy. The company is going to have to stay on top of its content to keep the lawsuits away.

"It's the same thing with viruses," Lipsitz elaborated. "You come up with an antivirus to stop this virus, and the hackers and computer gurus out there create a virus that gets around that antivirus. It's an ongoing battle, like the carnival game 'Whack-a-Mole.' It's like, 'I got you,' and then another one pops up."

McSherry at the EFF agreed. "It certainly is true that with every form of digital rights management that we've ever seen, it always gets hacked eventually, so I think it's likely that eventually this too will be hacked. It's just a matter of time."

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19 comments

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That "digital fingerprint" is just a
fingerprint of the audio track, which can probably be very easily distorted and therefore get through any filter. However, in the end, the less that is allowed the less popular the site will become.

Perhaps in the grand scheme of things, China will become the country where most websites are operated from.
Posted by bobby_brady (765 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Change the title or convert it
I change the title of the file so the original is not recognizable. And I usually have to convert it from one file type to another- that usually changes the file type from the original copyright file type, by accident.
Posted by bobbydi (51 comments )
Link Flag
If it works as I expect, a complete waste of time and money
All you have to do to reload your video is open it in a HEX editor and change one freakin' value and you bypass the fingerprint block.
Posted by ballssalty (219 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Easier than that...
Why not just cut 10 seconds off the end of the clip. Or add a transition to the front of it. Or do any number of things to it that would change the finger print.

Robert
Posted by Heebee Jeebies (632 comments )
Link Flag
Nice technology, but...
they still can't find a way to look up sex offendor databases to prevent registered sex offendors from creating profiles? Guess if it isn't where the money is it's not so important.
Posted by Crapatoa (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Moot argument
Profiling pedophiles isn't the responsibility of media companies. Protecting their copyrighted material is. Ask any of their shareholders. Companies that create DRM and similar technologies have copyright holders who are more than willing to pay for that protection, however fleeting it may ultimately be. If law enforcement and government is will to pay for profiling and tracking strategies for the sicko perverts of the world as much as they'll pay for the next Ultimate Killing Machine platform, then software developers will be climbing all over themselves to get a piece of [i]that[/i] pie.

But like others have said...even that will likely be hacked as well...
Posted by make_or_break (3747 comments )
Link Flag
Overkill & Subject to Abuse
Some copyrighted material that's used fall under legitiate fair use. As such it should not be taken down even at the request of the copyright holder.

Further sites like MySpace tend to err on the safe side. There ends up being no provision for users to make a case that the content should stay up. So even if they are legally in the clear on their posted content they still suffer from having it taken down.

Lastly since no real proof is needed in a take down notice that there actually has been a copyright infringment take down notices can be used to the point of abuse by copyright holders who then have no requirment to prove a harm when they are questioned by the party who was just harmed by the takedown notice.

I'd like to see a system that does it's job.
Fair use is allowed, Copyright holders need to prove their case when asked or their takedown notice is invalidated.
Posted by Renegade Knight (13748 comments )
Reply Link Flag
No real proof in a takedown notice?
Well that's not really true. You have to swear on penalty of
perjury that you believe your copyright has been infringed. OK,
so that's not proof, but going to jail for perjury is a pretty
reasonable deterrent I think.

Oh yeah, on the other point, I'd also like to see a system that
does its job. A *copyright* system that does its job. Currently
the system is failing badly, and it's failing because it was never
intended to deal with the consequences of large-scale infringing
behaviour by the general public, or with the problem of the
Internet making a lot of copyright-protected material accessible
across many legal jurisdictions all with different rules.

The point is that the copyright system has been the engine
behind a number of sectors of the economy for some
considerable time. If it continues to fail, producers may abandon
copyright completely and just use technological means to
restrict what can and cannot be done with their material. That
would be bad for everyone.
Posted by ajhoughton (133 comments )
Link Flag
this IS a big deal
If this works like the company says it does, than this new technology is not as easily circumvented as changing part of the file, whether a single bit or an intro or conclusion. The technology can recognize a given song, for instance, no matter whether it has been converted into different formats, resampled, or cut in with other material. To get around it requires changing the actual way the actual audio sounds to the user, at which point you're listening to something different.
This is not nearly so much of a "hackable" problem as removing the DRM from a file you already have.
If users of MySpace wish to continue posting this type of content, they will have to find another site to do so on, and my guess is that this will only last until that site becomes big enought to attract "old media" attention.
Posted by theflamingpoptart (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Almost . . .
This technology is actually many decades old. It may date back to the 1950s.

You do not need to remove DRM from a file. It simply means that you need to find another method to distribute the media.

A flash player that supports encryption might make it harder for service providers to filter content. If a file gets removed, reencrypt it and repost it along with the key. Copy and paste the key into the player to get the audio/video. Make the key very hard to get automatically. The human intervention required and an endless stream of keys would be a challenge.
Posted by CommandHerTaco (43 comments )
Link Flag
You are correct.
It is not a "digital fingerprint" signature or hash based on the bits. It is based on the analog output.

Just as pirates can defeat any protection by playing audio into a tape recorder, service providers can filter anything based on what it looks or sounds like.
Posted by CommandHerTaco (43 comments )
Reply Link Flag
One possible solution
As far as I can tell this is either a) a hash (which as people have said before me isn't a big deal) or 2) Some form of algorithm that tries to "listen to" / "watch" each media file uploaded and develop some way of categorizing the results. A solution to 1 seems trivial but a solution to 2 seems almost as easy: Develop an extension to a popular codec that allows for some rudimentary form of encryption... then have users publish the key on their Myspace page (or heck, use their Myspace username). While this probably can be used as evidence against them for purposes of willfully violating copyright, It just might get passed Myspace security.
Posted by n122103 (8 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Wont work
Myspace will just take down all encrypted videos, or since the key will have to be posted, they will just decrypt the files.
Posted by matale5 (5 comments )
Link Flag
It Figures but be carefull
I always need to make a point I agree with Copyright laws BUT its the way those laws are abused by Media Corporations I am Against. Its no shocker that MySpace would make things easy for its fellow MediaMaffia members (remember MySpace is owned by Fox) to Abuse Copyright laws. Now MySpace can make whatever rules they want as long as they dont violate Laws BUT giving this much controll to Corporations who have already abused the laws and in many cases engaged in ILLEGAL actions is a DANGER to the American Public.

I can recall another site who sent thousands of users Take Down notices when Viacom "Claimed" copyright violations when in fact MANY claims were unfounded.. yes I am 1 who had content removed that had NOTHING to do with Viacom much less a copyright violation.

Giving the MediaMaffia the ability to Take Down content on the spot without due process is Censorship for one but could could possibly be an illegal action if the trend of unfound claim of Copyright violations continues... and it will.
Posted by skatestuderic (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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