EMI courts YouTube to help fight pirates

Strange bedfellows, record label and video upload sites would work together to help curtail copyright infringement.

LAGUNA BEACH, Calif.--Record label EMI Music Publishing is talking to YouTube, Revver and other video upload sites about alliances that would help it monitor and curtail misuse of its copyrights--and loss of advertising or download sales--from unauthorized music videos that are posted to their sites.

"We're actively trying to strike relationships (with user-generated video sites) for the showing of our music videos," Thomas Ryan, EMI Music's senior vice president of digital and mobile strategy, said Wednesday here at the Piper Jaffray Global Internet Summit, a three-day confab of investors and Internet executives.

"It's our hope that those commercial relationships will help us remove infringing material that someone uploaded and we're not being compensated for," Ryan said during a panel discussion about online entertainment.

Ryan said EMI is interested in protecting video produced by the label, or video produced by someone else but which infringes on its intellectual property--for example, someone lip-syncing a protected song or who has remixed a music video clip. One solution to the problem is digital tracking technology.

Reminiscent of the early days of Napster, record labels and music studios face new piracy challenges as video consumption explodes on the Internet and through digital devices such as Apple Computer's iPod. Many companies like EMI are trying to promote download sales of music videos, subscriptions and advertising-supported streaming of trailers, music videos and other promotional material.

But those goals can be diametrically opposed to emerging trends within sites like YouTube and Revver--which have thousands of young people uploading their own versions of videos for distribution, or are redistributing copies of their favorite music video without the permission of rights holders.

As part of its policy, YouTube prohibits anyone except legitimate rights holders, such as EMI, from uploading copyright content to its site. Despite that, such content does get posted illegally. As a result, Ryan said, a fingerprinting technology could be used to automate the process for detecting illegally uploaded material. Such marking technology has long been used to track illegally distributed MP3s in peer-to-peer networks.

Ryan pointed to fingerprinting technologies, designed to automatically identify and block transmission of digital-video files, such as those from Audible Magic or Snocap as possibilities.

However, there is a line between what could and could not be seen as infringement, according to Ryan. For example, a user-generated video of a fan lip-syncing a popular song may be viewed as harmless, or even helpful for promoting the band, among rights holders. But depending on the band, song and the nature of the video (if say, it contains racy material), the uploaded video might be taken down if the record label has its way.

Still, EMI is trying to take a progressive approach when it comes to video online, and not necessarily trying to stop the organic promotion of artists like Coldplay on sites and personal pages around the Web. Rather, the label is just concerned with protecting its own revenue stream, Ryan said.

To this end, EMI has struck deals with companies like Rhythm Media to stream music videos to mobile phones, with advertisements that appear before the video. It shares revenue on the ads, and Ryan said those test runs have been successful with viewers.

In recent weeks, it also teamed with a new service called Qtrax, an advertising-supported peer-to-peer network, which is slated to launch later this year. EMI will make its music catalog available on the peer-to-peer service in a bold move to embrace technology it once sought to disable for piracy.

With all such services, "our goal is to up-sell them," Ryan said. "This is a learning experience for us."

YouTube representatives were not immediately available for comment.

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