Livestream recently let loose a seriously long-winded open letter to content and event owners seeking to find a streaming partner. In it they included a 'zero tolerance' statement about piracy and a lot of finger pointing at other major live streaming sites.My first question is: is this necessary? I'm reminded of something parents say about being a tattletale.
Everyone has a zero tolerance policy towards pirates don't they? The crux of the matter is whether or not they choose to enforce that policy to the fullest of their ability – the letter of the law vs. the spirit of the law. By now I'm sure all of you have run into places like Justin.tv and ustream.tv, both of which generally offer streams of things like live sports.
I myself have watched some events on those places including the Olympics and various football matches from around the world. Am I ashamed? Nope. We've discussed this in the past. There are no outlets here pay, legal or otherwise for much of that content. So I'm not really taking money out of anyone's pocket now am I? Well, maybe the local pub owners who pay for some extravagant satellite package, well beyond the means of most normal consumers, so that they can pull in customers who want to watch these events. Of course, many of the Olympic events I wanted to watch – mostly hockey – were at between 9pm and 6am local time. Not many places are open and those that are, I am not interested in going to usually.
But I digress (like I so often do when this topic arises). Both Justin TV and Ustream are known as places where illegal streams show up on a regular basis. Livestream's statement reads like a moral berating for all sites who are hosting illegal streams. Certainly it's wrong and the offending sites should take the necessary steps to pull down the illegal streams and ban the users in question (which I doubt Justin.tv actually does).
Now Livestream holds themselves up as the pinnacle of proper anti-piracy. But looking through their most popular channels I found some that may be questionable. Streams that contain potentially copyright infringing content (music videos, video game streams, etc) according to the spirit of the law (but maybe not the letter).
Oddly, they didn't point a finger at YouTube who has loads of copyright infringing content (probably because they aren't streaming live hmm?). I guess they only care about losing streams to other live streaming sites and not really piracy on the whole.
They make some bold statements and point a lot of fingers in the letter stating that other sites are actively working to keep channels up and running:
Some competitors have also gone as far as allowing popular illegal channels to be hidden from their guide so that the infringing channels are harder for rights holders to discover.
That could be a potentially serious and libelous statement on their part if they don't have actual proof. I personally have no proof either way, so I can't comment on it.
From their recent testimony at a House Judiciary Committee Hearing, they stated that they have created a system with Vobile that automatically detects copyrighted content and removes it from their site. But just a quick look at their site [justin.tv] shows they are obviously on the verge of an epic fail in that regard. At present no less than 50% of the most popular channels feature some sort of obviously copyrighted content – The Big Bang Theory, South Park, King of Queens, football matches and more, many of which are streams of the exact content.
So much for Justin.tv being serious about piracy.
Heading over to Ustream you find less of it but now and again you come across something questionable. Of course they have also done a good job of working with producers and creating special featured events like the Boondock Saints II Official Release party.
Then again, a quick search at Ustream for Manchester United brings up loads of what are obviously illegal streams.
The fact of the matter is that pointing fingers at Justin and Ustream is not difficult to do. Neither have implemented surefire ways to stop copyrighted content showing up.
But in Livestream's own statement they say:
The availability of free live streaming services is unfortunately abused by many users broadcasting live, copyrighted content such as live sports, feature films and more (often rebroadcast from their television or cable box).
Then they point the fingers at these sites (who claim the DMCA Safe Harbor provision) stating that they are at fault.
This law requires service providers to delete infringing content within 24 hours after receipt of a valid takedown notice from the rights owner. The window for live events is typically far shorter than 24 hours which is why the DMCA takedown as a sole process to prevent piracy and protect rights holders is not enough in our view.
So while both Justin.tv and Ustream.tv may in fact be following the letter of the law, they are guilty, so it would seem Livestream is stating, that they are not following the spirit. But in a court of law, isn't it the letter that is interpreted and not the spirit?
Be Pro-Active with your Content
If you are a content provider or event owner and you want to prevent illegal streams of your content, my suggestion would be to make that content easily available to everyone who might want to view it. I'm not saying provide it for free, but at some reasonable cost and anywhere worldwide. Some people have an issue with paying for something that is freely available (I'm one of those types from time to time). If it's broadcast over the air and sent to anyone with a proper receiver, who does not pay to receive it, they would argue, then how can it be illegal to rebroadcast it for free? I'm not a lawyer and trying to explain it all to those people would probably be an exercise in futility anyway.
There will always be people who are unwilling to pay for something they want, that's unfortunately the nature of mankind so you will never stomp out piracy 100%, but if you offer a viable, affordable and legal solution, you might take away a lot of the impetus behind it. On the up side, you stand to make a bit more coin off your content. Isn't that cool?
Generally what happens, so it seems to me, is that international licensing gets in the way and then content cannot be monetized properly via online channels (Hi Hulu). Well you can't possibly expect the average consumer to sit down and wade through your licensing agreements can you? All they know is what they want (your content), when they want it (right bloody now) and where to get it (the Internet!). Now if it were available on the Internet legally, I believe (because I still have faith in humanity), many would go there and get it instead of seeking out the seedy, smoky confines of the nearest illegal establishment.
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