November 6, 2006 4:00 AM PST
TVU chief grapples with copyright questions
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Here's how it works: Broadcasts are separated into information packets and distributed among users' PCs. The PCs then exchange the information automatically among them. Nothing has to be uploaded to any server.
This limits the bandwidth costs because broadcasters don't have to continuously transmit content to each individual viewer, Shen said.
He said TVU Networks can embed advertisements into video so that broadcasters can target specific regions and demographic groups, and the company is also working on encryption technology to secure signals.
"For broadcasters, this is a better way to reach audiences online," Shen said.
As for the possible copyright issues his company faces, he said they are not unlike the ones that YouTube is wrestling with.
Copyright attorneys and technology analysts disagree. While many legal experts argue that YouTube qualifies for legal protection under the safe harbor provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, they said TVU Networks appears to have a far more questionable claim.
The most important difference between the two companies is that among the more than 50,000 videos uploaded to YouTube every day, there is plenty of material on the site that doesn't violate copyright. Because of this, YouTube can more successfully make the argument that it doesn't know about specific acts of copyright infringement, said John Stickevers, a copyright attorney with the Boston law firm of Bromberg & Sunstein.
"The safe harbor provision doesn't apply if the service provider has actual knowledge of the infringing activity on the system," Stickevers said.
By comparison, there is rarely ever more than 50 broadcast streams found at any one time on the TVUPlayer, and every cable or broadcast station found on the service and contacted by CNET News.com said TVU Networks is using their content without authorization.
Of course, TVU Networks is not the only company going down this path. One highly anticipated entry that is due to launch in the coming weeks was developed by the makers of Kazaa and Skype. What remains to be seen is how they handle the copyright issue.
Shen might have reason for hope if he's truly just interested in showcasing his technology and if it can really help the industry, von Lohmann said. He said he has noticed a willingness by entertainment companies recently to work with creators of bleeding edge technologies, and Shen may have already taught broadcasters that people want to watch TV without having to jump between Web sites.
"If you'd had asked me about this company a few years ago I would have told you that they would be sued within a week," von Lohmann said. "Now, I think there are lots of people at big media companies that have a wait-and-see approach. They understand that many in the tech sector are saying, 'We want to innovate and at the same time we'll help you guys make more money.'"
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