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Can Google's Video ID System Secure YouTube?

Google today announced the beta release of YouTube Video Identification, a tool the search giant said goes "above and beyond our legal responsibilities." In a blog posting on the release, YouTube product manager David King said YouTube Video Identification will help copyright holders identify their works on YouTube and choose what they want done with them.

YouTube has been sued by Viacom and others over what they say is the unauthorized posting of copyrighted works. The Viacom suit, which asked for over $1 billion in damages, accused Google and YouTube of "massive intentional copyright infringement."

In a court filing, Google rejected allegations it's violating Viacom's intellectual property rights, saying it not only complies but goes beyond its obligations under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

The tool offers a range of options, from blocking a video from being viewed to promoting it or only making the video available for a fee. The new Video Identification system takes a unique "hash" of every video removed for copyright infringement and blocks re-upload of that exact video file.

Google said it requires a 10-minute limit on content uploaded to YouTube. Google also said it provides content owners with an electronic notification and takedown tool to help them more easily identify their material. The tool lets copyright holders notify Google "at the click of a mouse" if there's material that needs to be taken off of YouTube.

In a page describing the beta service, Google makes a point of sticking with its oft-stated view that it cannot be expected to protect copyrighted material on its own. The description page states in part:

No matter how accurate the tools get, it is important to remember that no technology can tell legal from infringing material without the cooperation of the content owners themselves. This means that copyright holders who want to use and help us refine our Video ID system will be providing the necessary information to help us recognize their work. We aim to make that process as convenient as possible.

Google's original video service, Google Video, also came under attack this summer by the National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC). The NLPC said it had evidence of pirated movies being hosted on Google Video, including "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" and "Live Free or Die Hard," as well as another movie, "Hairspray," which hadn't yet been released to theaters.

In response, Google spokesman Gabriel Stricker said protecting or filtering copyrighted videos is not as straightforward as it might first appear. "Copyright status can only be determined by the copyright holder and the copyright holder's preferences vary wildly," Stricker told InternetNews.com back in July. He noted, for example, that some artists want control over every single use of their content while others proactively want Google to host their latest videos as a promotional tool.