The broadband revolution has made it easier then ever before for people to obtain pirate copies of movies and TV shows. It’s a practice that US media giant NBC Universal is aggressively trying to put to an end with filtering technologies and legal efforts to protect its intellectual property.
Speaking at the Supercomm conference, Richard Cotton, executive vice president and General Counsel at NBC Universal, said that fair use is not an excuse to pirate content. He added that there are both technology and behavioral changes that need to take place in order to curb the appetite for pirated media content. In Cotton’s view, getting pirated content isn’t as hard as it should be.
“We have raised a younger generation that has come to the conclusion that if it’s so easy, it can’t be wrong,” Cotton said. “That technological teaching is far more powerful than any modest preaching.”
NBC lets users legally watch TV shows online for free via Hulu, which it co-owns with other networks.
Cotton noted that users need to be sent technological hints to move to legal platforms like Hulu, as opposed to pirate sites. He added that often quality and security issues can be encountered by those that obtain pirate media, as opposed to the legal option where there is higher quality media.
“Gradually people will learn that it’s either too risky or too unsatisfying to go to a pirate or illegal site,” Cotton said.
According to Cotton, NBC is now working with video sharing sites like YouTube to ensure that NBC content is not illegally being shared. That effort is not entirely successful though. Cotton said that currently NBC’s YouTube filters are catching about 93 percent of NBC’s content.
Cotton pointed to NBC’s 2008 Beijing Olympic coverage as a case study of how good online media can work. He said that NBC worked with multiple video sharing sites to ensure NBC’s content was not being shared. As such it made it difficult for users to get pirated content. Instead, Cotton said that the NBC Olympic site offered up high quality video that was easily available.
NBC video clips, particularly those from its Saturday Night Live (SNL) show, routinely find their way onto YouTube and according to one argument have actually helped the show go viral.
Cotton said he doesn’t have a problem with fair use. Fair use is a legal copyright concept that enables people to use small bits of content without a need for licensing.
Cotton said that NBC isn’t trying to block fair use, but rather is trying to block content pirates.
“Fair use is an important discussion,” Cotton said. “But our software is seeking to detect very long, whole extended individual copies of copyrighted materials.”
According to Cotton, there is no claim of fair use, for someone to watch an entire TV episode or a full length movie with no changes. The focus of the NBC effort is to reduce the amount of illegal file sharing that’s going on.
“What the issue in most of the creative industries is, is the digital theft of whole chunks of work,” Cotton said. “Most cases we’re talking about are not viral marketing, it’s taking an entire movie and having it redistributed on the Web.”
When it comes to fair use applications, there are approaches that NBC is taking.
“We’re not blocking mash-ups, there are ways to set content recognition systems so they are sensitive,” Cotton said.