YouTube's copyright checker: Soon, no more Colbert

A Google lawyer says the company will soon implement technology to verify that videos posted on YouTube aren't infringing on media firms' copyrights.

By Farhad Manjoo

Published July 29, 2007 11:10AM (EDT)

The Viacom-Google lawsuit over copyrighted material on YouTube got interesting on Friday, as a Google lawyer told a federal judge that the company would soon begin implementing technology to recognize infringing videos on the site. As Greg Sandoval reports in, the Google lawyer, Philip Beck, said the screening process would take a few seconds to determine if an uploaded video contains copyrighted content.

"We hope to have the testing completed and technology available by sometime in the Fall," a Google rep added in an e-mail to Sandoval. "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."

Here's the rub, though: Even if Google begins screening new YouTube videos, Viacom and other media companies are still intent on collecting damages for what they view as a long history of copyright infringement. All those clips of "The Daily Show" and Stephen Colbert you've watched on YouTube -- to Viacom, Comedy Central's corporate parent, those videos constitute violations "on a very massive scale" for which it expects remuneration, a company attorney told the Associated Press.

Louis Solomon, an attorney who represents several European sports leagues that are also suing YouTube, told Sandoval: "If in fact Google puts this (system) in place, it is obviously way too late."

So here's the deal, then: Though it's hard to see how sports and comedy clips on YouTube do anything but help their copyright owners, very soon, they'll all be gone from the site. Google, though, will still have to pay. I wonder what Colbert thinks about that.

Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

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