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Google's latest PR stunt

By  Aug 16, 2007

Topics: Programming, C/C++

A few days ago, Google's representatives offered to implement a software-based screening mechanism that would disable the uploading of copyrighted material. Seemingly, this is a proposal that both Viacom and the judge would welcome. In reality, this is just a PR stunt.

Youtube users can still watch copyrighted clips and upload new copyrighted content in spite of Viacom's lawsuit. However, don’t let that mislead you: Google's legals problems with respect to copyright infringement are far from over. A few days ago, Google's representatives offered to implement a software-based screening mechanism that would disable the uploading of copyrighted material. Seemingly, this proposal should make both Viacom and the judge happy. In reality,however, this is no more than transparent a PR stunt.

The said screening tool is supposed to check a special flag in a digital file. If the flag is set, this means that the file is copyrighted and therefore it will be blocked. Similar copyright enforcement mechanisms are used in other sites that sell digital media. However, Google's solution is doomed to fail for two main reasons:

The software-based screening solution doesn't apply to older content. Video clips from the 1990s and earlier are usually uploaded to Youtube directly from a user's private VHS collection. Unless Google has implemented a very sophisticated image recognition algorithm, there's no way to block such copyrighted material automatically. In other words, users will still be able to upload copyrighted materials without a hitch.

The second problem is that users can easily fool this software. All you have to do is convert the digital file back to analog, redigitize the analog file and the copyright flag is gone! The picture quality might deteriorate a bit but considering Youtube's already low broadcast quality, you will hardly notice any difference anyway.

Aren't Google's executive aware of these loopholes? Sure they are. So why are they proposing it? My guess is that they want to buy time, and perhaps win the judge's empathy by adopting the "willing to cooperate" image.

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