Contrary to recent speculation, an antipiracy tool Google is developing for YouTube will not block uploads to the video-sharing site.
Instead, the tool will check videos after they are put on YouTube and flag those that match legitimate material submitted by copyright owners and compiled by Google into a library of restricted uploads, a Google spokesman said.
When the digital-fingerprinting tool finds a match in the library, it will take predetermined actions, such as issuing an alert, removing the clip or both, said Google spokesman Ricardo Reyes.
In this way, the digital fingerprinting tool remains consistent with descriptions of its core design made by senior Google executives in recent months.
It is also congruent with Google's position that YouTube is on the right side of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) as long as it removes, upon request, illegally copied videos that owners don't want uploaded without their permission.
The tool became news on Friday, when a Google attorney briefly described it during a routine hearing in the copyright-infringement lawsuit that Viacom filed against the search-engine company.
As press accounts of the attorney's comments began circulating, a number of bloggers and industry insiders wondered if the tool's design had been altered so it would prevent offending video clips from reaching YouTube's site.
Responding to a request for clarification from IDG News Service, Google's Reyes said that the tool has always been based on digital- fingerprinting technology that will flag video clips after they have been uploaded to YouTube.
It is the same tool that Google CEO Eric Schmidt described in April during the company's first-quarter earnings call, Reyes said. At the time, Schmidt said the tool wasn't being designed to filter out and block pirated videos, but rather to help to "somewhat automate" the process through which content owners flag illegally copied videos so Google can remove them from the site.
"It's not a filtering system. The technology doesn't block uploads," Schmidt said in April. "It makes it much more effective and quicker to get us to remove inappropriately uploaded content. It's very much compliant with the DMCA."
The tool is still in development and testing, so some features haven't been finalized yet, Reyes said, adding that Google is now testing the tool's speed and scalability. "I don't have the answers to all the questions [about how the tool works]. We are at very early stages of testing the technology," Reyes said.
On Friday, attorney Philip S. Beck of Barlit Beck Herman Palenchar & Scott told US District Judge Louis L. Stanton that Google would try to deliver the video recognition tool by September, according to published reports and a hearing transcript provided by Viacom, which otherwise declined comment.
"Somebody who has a copyrighted video would provide it to us and say 'we don't want this up on YouTube.' We're developing a way to take basically an electronic or video or digital fingerprint of this material so that if somebody does try to upload it, within a minute or so the computers will figure out that that's one of the items that the copyright owner said they don't want up on the system, and we would be able to pull that down until any issues are resolved," Beck said, according to the transcript, which Viacom obtained from the court.
Reyes stressed that Google isn't developing this tool to comply with any law, but rather to help copyright owners flag videos they don't want up on YouTube.
"The DMCA doesn't require us to make any of these tools available. The DMCA requires us to take down the content when notified. This just makes it easier for people to flag content, for content owners to notify us," Reyes said. "At the end of the day, we don't want infringing content up there either. That's what it comes down to."
Google already has audio-recognition technology in place at YouTube, as well as a mechanism for content owners to manually flag uploaded videos, Reyes said. In addition, Google bans users who violate YouTube's terms of service three times, he said.
The digital-fingerprinting tool may not be the last such tool Google develops, Reyes said. "It's all part of the 'Claim your Content' technology which is a family of tools. This video-identification technology would be the latest tool we would offer. It won't necessarily be the last tool because we're going to keep trying to innovate in this area," Reyes said.
Viacom sued Google in March in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, alleging copyright infringement from YouTube and seeking $1 billion in damages.
Friday's hearing was a procedural one intended to set the schedule for the case. The scheduling wasn't completed, so another conference was set for 6 August.
Google acquired YouTube in November last year in a $1.65 billion deal.