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Service lets people rip videos from YouTube, other sites

Keepvid enables Web surfers to copy illegally posted clips from YouTube, while its sister service makes such content easy to find.

Two services run by two people in Australia are giving people new ways to access and use video content from sites like YouTube and Google Video, and copyright holders may well find themselves up in arms about it.

Known as Peekvid and Keepvid, the sister services are designed, respectively, to aggregate and index copyrighted YouTube content, and allow users to rip content from YouTube, Google Video and other services to their hard drives.

Thus, though YouTube prohibits anyone except legitimate rights holders--such as NBC Universal, EMI Records and many others--from uploading copyrighted content to its site, such content does get posted illegally, and these sister services make it possible to easily view, and download, a wide variety of such content. A recent survey turned up clips including World Cup highlights, Beatles and 2Pac Shakur music videos, episodes of "Seinfeld," an episode of "Lost" and dozens of other TV shows and music videos.

"None of the videos on Peekvid are hosted by us," Joshua, one of two people in western Australia who run the service and sister site Keepvid, said in an instant message interview. "We do not condone uploading of copyright(ed) material by illegitimate copyright holders. Peekvid is simply a more organized index of some of YouTube's videos."

Yet, Joshua, who wouldn't give his last name, also argued that without unauthorized copyrighted content, YouTube would not be a household name.

"If YouTube had no copyright(ed) content whatsoever," he said, "I cannot really see it being the big player in video hosting that it is."

And he suggested that by indexing YouTube content and therefore making it easy to track down specific TV shows or music videos, Peekvid is actually giving rights holders a way to fight back against unauthorized copying of their content.

"All of our content is user-submitted, and if the copyright holders wish to have their content removed, they can contact YouTube directly," Joshua said. "We are just one site, out of many sites, that index YouTube content...It is also easier for copyright holders to track down any of their content that appears on YouTube."

Just pointing the way
For its part, YouTube sees Peekvid as an annoyance, but not as a service that is directly breaking any rules. And that's because the site is not hosting content itself, but rather just providing pointers to content that is hosted on YouTube.

And in fact, YouTube implied that it may well use Peekvid to do just what Joshua had suggested: pinpoint copyrighted content and flag it for removal.

"Peekvid is streaming content by embedding the videos, which they have the right to do," said Julie Supan, YouTube's senior director of marketing. "We're going to review the site to ensure that the videos that they are pointing to that are being streamed are in fact from legitimate rights holders...A lot of these links are going to be dead soon, that's for sure."

Surprisingly, though, Supan did not charge Peekvid with breaking the law. In fact, she volunteered that YouTube bears some of the responsibility for stopping what is made possible by Peekvid and sites like it.

"The way they're streaming the video into their site is not a violation of our terms of service," Supan said. "I think...the onus is on us to continue to educate the users as to what is copyrighted content."

When we built our service, we specifically chose streaming as our delivery mechanism. We are doing everything we can to prevent downloads of video files from the site.
--Steve Chen, CTO and co-founder, YouTube

Still, an intellectual-property lawyer familiar with Peekvid thinks the site may well be violating the law.

"It took me about two minutes of looking at Peekvid to determine that what's going on is clearly a violation of (the rights of) the copyright owners of those videos," said Marc Mayer, an intellectual-property partner at Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp. "It looks to me like what's going on at that Web site is a catalog and index, really a road map, to infringing content...What is going on is plainly copyright infringement."

Meanwhile, Peekvid's sister site, Keepvid, has another mission altogether. Its purpose, according to Joshua, is to be "a tool which people can use to download videos from streaming Web sites."

Indeed, the service allows users to rip video content directly onto their hard drives from a wide variety of video services, including YouTube, Google Video, iFilm and many others.

And while videos ripped using Keepvid cannot be played back directly--it requires the downloading and installation of a devoted video player--a quick test by CNET revealed that it's not at all difficult to download and play back copyrighted content found on YouTube and Google Video.

And while Google Video allows its users to download content, YouTube does not.

"When we built our service, we specifically chose streaming as our delivery mechanism," Steve Chen, YouTube CTO and co-founder, said in an e-mail statement to CNET "We are doing everything we can to prevent downloads of video files from the site. However, with digital media, there's always the chance that a technical person can circumvent the system on occasion. Even the most widely adopted security systems like Windows DRM (digital rights management) can be hacked."

As far as Joshua is concerned, Keepvid isn't doing anything that freely available scripts and other Web sites, like Video Downloader, haven't already made possible.

"There are many other sites which do exactly the same thing as us," said Joshua. "So I do believe that if YouTube were to do anything (in response to Keepvid and such sites), it would be to change the way things work on their enable downloading from their site."

But that's not likely anytime soon. In fact, YouTube seems committed to its streaming model, and among many other ways that it's addressed the unauthorized content situation, the site has limited the lengths of newly uploaded content to 10 minutes or less.

That "prevents people from posting full-length programming," Chen said in his statement. "We are continually evaluating the latest DRM technologies and will continue to monitor the situation."

Supan also said that rights holders themselves may upload content longer than 10 minutes. And she said YouTube will soon be announcing major partnerships with rights holders, including some that have previously demanded that the site take down unauthorized content.

But she acknowledged that copyrighted content that was illegally uploaded prior to the adoption of the 10 minute limit may still be in the system.

And that's what likely explains the fact that it's easy to find full episodes of NBC's "Seinfeld," HBO's "Da Ali G Show," ABC's "Sports Night" and many other shows on Peekvid. And by extension, it's also possible, until those shows are removed from YouTube, to rip them using Keepvid.

In any case, Joshua doesn't sound worried that YouTube and rights holders may well take down the bulk of the copyrighted content that gives Peekvid its usefulness.

"Peekvid would simply move on to other video content," he said, "or alternatively, copyright content holders can work with us to promote their material (on) a very simple and easy to use site."