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Win-Win: Hulu's custom clips fight piracy and enable fans

Want to share a scene from your favorite TV show? Hulu makes it easy, a plus for fans and for content owners concerned about copyright violations.

Like many people, I often want to share a television or video scene with others. Unfortunately, finding quality clips of want you want can be hard. The good news is that Hulu has been making my life easier.

For example, The Office recently did a hilarious sendup of what it would be like if the fictional Sabre company tried to have its own stores like Apple. There was a great scene in which Dwight Schrute explains the importance of bloggers to the store's success on launch day.

His awesome rant: "For a tech company, press can only mean one thing. Bloggers. Dossier on bloggers: bloggers are gross. Bloggers are obese. Bloggers have halitosis. You're going to love them."

For me, this is a classic scene. However, it's not one that NBC decided should be posted on the The Office's official video clips page, nor is it a clip that Hulu offers through its own official page for The Office.

There's always YouTube, but....

What to do? I suspect for many, they resort to uploading their own clips. For others, they look to see if someone else has uploaded a clip. With the scene above, it was easy for me to find three separate clips of it posted to YouTube.

Posting short clips like this is probably legal, deemed fair use. But that doesn't prevent the clips being challenged by copyright holders and removed. Even if they're retained, many clips are of poor quality.

Hulu: Make your own clip

Hulu provides a solution to both problems by allowing anyone to make authorized, high-quality clips of video content it provides. Here's how to do it.

When you're watching a Hulu video, select the More link:

That will reveal the "Embed this video" option. Click on that, and an editing screen will open up:

Using the screen, you can use sliders to select where you want a particular clip to begin and end from a given episode. Once you've made your selection, you can copy the embed code to use on your blog:

One downside is that there's no way to zoom in to the particular area you're working on. In other words -- see in the screenshot above, how close the beginning and end points are? It's hard to move those little sliders around.

A tip is to make use of the "Preview" button over to the right of the sliders. It allows your current selection to play. You'll also be shown the current time for any point in the clip as it plays. Make a note of the time, and that can make it easier to move the sliders to the exact time you want.

Some wishes

Another downside is that you can't generate just a link to the clip, if you just want to share it on Twitter or Facebook, rather than embed it on your own blog. But here's a way around that.

Look at the embed code, and you'll see a URL that begins with more characters. Copy that URL. Here's how it looks for the clip I made above:

It's not pretty, but it does work. The clip will play full screen in a browser. Unfortunately, using the link to share in something like Twitter, Google+ or Facebook won't create a thumbnail of the video, nor can you watch it within these services. But you can't watch regular clips within them either, it seems. Hopefully, that will change.

Another improvement might be to allow mash-ups, or compiling several clips together. Dwight goes on about bloggers several times further in the episode. It would be nice if fans could edit these all together.

Even better would be a way that after one person has made a custom clip, that clip could be made available to other fans via Hulu. That would save time for everyone, fans and Hulu alike.

Everyone wins

In allowing clips to be made like this, Hulu helps fans stay fans, rather than potentially being upset that they can't find a clip of what they want to share -- or worse, making a clip that gets pulled down from YouTube or elsewhere.

My guess is that it also reduces piracy, because even if clips are fair use, watching a clip on YouTube may encourage others to seek out full content, authorized or not. Instead, authorized clips can help people discover the sources of authorized content.

Finally, it makes for a better user experience. You can watch a high-quality clip from a location that you know is going to last, at least in the short term. If Hulu loses the rights to host some of this content, I do fear the clips will disappear.

I've also seen the ability to create your own clips for videos at MSNBC. Other places may offer this, as well. I sure hope the idea spreads. As a sidenote, Movie Clips is a favorite site of mine to locate authorized clips from movies, although availability can be hit-or-miss.

I also hope more source content itself comes online in authorized ways. You can't clip what's not offered. I can't share with you a classic scene from Modern Family when Phil is excited about getting an iPad, not from an official source. That episode isn't online. But there are plenty of poor quality clips of it on YouTube. There's a better way than that.