The Best Videos on Facebook Could Be Stolen Property

Facebook has stolen videos for display on its site, alleged Hank Green of VlogBrothers.

A whopping 725 of the 1,000 most popular videos on Facebook in Q1 were freebooted — that is, re-uploaded to the social media network without authorization — he said, citing a report from Ogilvy and Tubular Labs.

Those 725 videos accounted for about 17 billion views in the quarter, Green noted.

The Facebook freebooting issue also has triggered complaints by other content creators, including Destin Sandin, who earlier this year posted a video about the subject on his “Smarter Every Day” YouTube channel.

“Welcome to the information age,” remarked Jim McGregor, principal analyst at Tirias Research.

“It continues to become increasingly difficult to protect content once it’s in the public eye,” he told the E-Commerce Times, “and it’s in the best interest of Internet companies to have an open policy on content.”

The Problem of Freebooting

Facebook will take down a freebooted video “a couple days after you let them know,” by which time it has “received 99.9 percent of the views it will ever receive,” Green said.

“Most of the traffic on a hot video often occurs during the first couple of days,” Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, acknowledged. If the freebooting allegations are true, then “Facebook gets the cream of the value before pulling down the content.”

YouTube used freebooted videos in 2006 and 2007, but after Google bought that company, it developed ContentID, which “analyzes every single video uploaded to YouTube and checks it against a massive database of known owned content,” Green said.

However, Facebook “isn’t motivated to fix this [freebooting problem], because it’s allowing them to grow faster than Google,” Enderle told the E-Commerce Times.

Facebook’s Blanket Defense

Facebook takes intellectual property rights very seriously, Product Manager Matt Pakes said in response to Green’s accusations.

Facebook has used the Audible Magic system for years to help prevent unauthorized video content on its site, he said.

It also provides tools for content owners to report possible copyright infringement, and is actively exploring further solutions to help IP owners identify and manage potential infringing content, but this is “a significant technical challenge at our scale,” noted Pakes.

The real problem is that everybody reposts content on various sites, and nobody thinks about copyright issuers, observed Mike Jude, a research manager at Frost & Sullivan.

“It’s an unstable dynamic, and the only practical way to enforce it is through encryption or subscription,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

YouTube “has been trying the subscription route without much success, and we all know how trying to enforce any kind of rule on the Facebook crowd works,” Jude said. “They scream bloody murder, and Facebook backs off.”

Behind the Skirts of the Law

Facebook’s “nearly always going to be protected under copyright liability under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s safe harbors,” commented Derek Bambauer, professor of law at the University of Arizona.

As long as Facebook “doesn’t have actual knowledge that the content is infringing, doesn’t have information that makes it apparent that it’s infringing, or doesn’t get a take-down notice from the copyright owner,” it’s immune from liability, he explained.

The safe harbor provisions also protect YouTube and other user-generated content systems, Bambauer told the E-Commerce Times.

Content owners are pressing to have the DCMA amended or to include additional safeguards for copyright, but “they tend to be counterbalanced by pressures from Internet platforms such as Facebook and YouTube,” he said.

Perhaps Facebook should follow the example of YouTube, which “has deployed the capability for content owners to sell ads even against infringing content,” Bambauer suggested, “so they can either have it taken down or monetize it.”

Richard Adhikari

Richard Adhikari has written about high-tech for leading industry publications since the 1990s and wonders where it's all leading to. Will implanted RFID chips in humans be the Mark of the Beast? Will nanotech solve our coming food crisis? Does Sturgeon's Law still hold true? You can connect with Richard on Google+.

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