Google to filter copyright videos by September

Appearing in court as part of the Viacom copyright suit, a Google attorney tells court that a "fix" to prevent users from uploading copyright material will be ready by September.

YouTube will launch a system in September designed to prevent pirated material from going up on the site, a Google lawyer said in court on Friday.

Google, which acquired YouTube in October, plans to generate a library of digital video fingerprints that would be used by a computer system to screen clips being uploaded to YouTube, said Philip Beck, one of the attorneys representing Google and YouTube. Beck added that the screening process would take only a few minutes to determine whether a clip is copyright material.

Google, Viacom and the class of copyright holders that have filed suit against Google and YouTube within the past year, were in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, for a scheduling hearing.

Beck's statement is significant because it would appear to be the first time that anyone from Google has set a firm launch date for a filtering-system roll out. The company has frustrated numerous media executives by promising to produce better copyright protections for YouTube but not delivering. Critics are quick to note that many of YouTube's competitors already screen content.

What may not go over well in Hollywood is that Google appeared to hedge once again when asked to respond to Beck's statement.

"We hope to have the testing completed and technology available by sometime in the Fall," said a Google spokesman in an e-mail. "But this is one of the most technologically complicated tasks that we have ever undertaken, and as always with cutting-edge technologies, it's difficult to forecast specific launch dates."

Louis Solomon, an attorney with Proskauer Rose, who along lawyers from the law firm Bernstein Litowitz, were appointed interim class counsel at the hearing. Solomon indicated that Google's filtering system would have little impact on the massive damages being claimed for past infringement.

In the class action suit filed in May by a group that included several European sports leagues, the plaintiffs have asked for billions of dollars in damages.

"If in fact Google puts this (system) in place, it is obviously way too late," Solomon said. "But we encourage Google to come forward and do what other companies have already done and treat all the content providers fairly. Not just the favorite few who have agreed to share advertising revenue with YouTube."

During the court proceeding, lawyers from both sides estimated that pre-trial discovery could take more than a year. That means there's a chance that YouTube's copyright issues may not be resolved until late next year.

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