Online copyright cops got a new tool today that tracks down unauthorized music and video clips on the Internet.
Dubbed Intersect, the service uses so-called intelligent agents to scour the Net for files and then generates a report listing the names of publishing sites and the Internet service providers hosting them. A pricing structure hasn't been announced, but Intersect believes record and movie companies will buy it so they can go after sites that publish songs or video files without permission.
The product was created amid growing charges from the music and motion picture industries that the Net creates a new landscape for the illegal copying and distribution of their property.
"We're interested in copyright control. We want to give control back the artists and publishers of music," said Intersect president Richard Ford.
But the advent of products like Intersect isn't being hailed from all corners of cyberspace. Privacy advocates worry that products like Intersect could be used to quietly collect marketing data about sites and their visitors.
"It's another example of what a bad rap the Net gets as far as copyright infringement," said James Love of the Consumer Project on Technology.
"The next question is what will they do with this intense surveillance information. Do they ask ISPs to shut you down because you sent a song to your mom over the Net?"
Intersect said it will not collect information about surfers, but it will provide some marketing services over time, such as tracking hits for customers. The service could also add fuel to an ongoing debate over fan Web sites.
Fan sites could be threatened with closure if music producers follow the lead of companies such as Paramount, which asked about 40 Star Trek fan sites to take down copyrighted material. Paramount's owner, Viacom, is the subject of a heated protest because of the move.
Still, Intersect may fare well with companies that want to safeguard online copyrights sooner than later.
U.S. record company executives already won a digital copyright victory in December when world leaders signed a treaty to honor digital music copyrights worldwide. The treaty has yet to be ratified by Congress, but its legislative approval is expected.
"The Net has created a lot of new work for us, but it's a great new venue for our writers. A lot of Web site developers want to do the right thing and compensate the owner. This service may help build new business relationships," said Richard Conlon, vice president of business development for BMI, a nonprofit collective copyright clearance agency that represents 180,000 songwriters, composers, and music publishers.
BMI's staff does their own online detective work for now, but Conlon added: "We want to work as efficiently as we can, and technology-based solutions can't hurt."