Don’t Blame the Copyright Bots, Says CEO of Copyright Bot Company

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Sept. 7 2012 10:08 AM

Don’t Blame the Copyright Bots, Says CEO of Copyright Bot Company

Who's to blame when false copyright claims block legitimate online videos?

Pavel Ignatov /

When Ustream's live online broadcast of a science-fiction awards show went dead Sunday night, Ustream co-founder and CEO Brad Hunstable apologized profusely—and then blamed a "third-party automated infringement system," called Vobile, for the outage. He added:

Will Oremus Will Oremus

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

Our editorial team and content monitors almost immediately noticed a flood of livid Twitter messages about the ban and attempted to restore the broadcast. Unfortunately, we were not able to lift the ban before the broadcast ended. ... I have suspended use of this third-party system until we are able to recalibrate the settings so that we can better balance the needs of broadcasters, viewers, and copyright holders.

This left the impression that Vobile's intractable copyright bots had overridden Ustream's best efforts to restore the live stream. In articles around the tech blogosphere, including my own, Vobile came out looking like the villain, and Ustream, at worst, slightly foolish for placing its trust in a third-party vendor.

There's a little problem with that narrative, according to Yangbin Wang, founder and CEO of Vobile, whom I spoke with by phone yesterday: Vobile doesn't shut down its clients' video feeds. Doesn't want to, and doesn't have the power to even if it did. All it does is notify them when it finds a match for material that has been marked as copyrighted in its database. What to do when that happens, Wang told me, is entirely up to the client. In this case, that means Ustream.

What's more, Wang said, no one at Ustream ever contacted Vobile to report a problem or ask for help. Wang assumes that's because Ustream knows the real problem was on its end, not Vobile's end.

When Hunstable appeared to blame Vobile for the Hugo Awards being blocked, Wang said, "This was a total surprise to us. The fact is it's not true. We were not a reason, we were not a cause to shut down the stream.We have no way to control their system or shut down their channel. We're not a cop."

In other words, Wang's copyright bots come in peace. It's up to content providers like Ustream to deploy them for good rather than for evil.

I've emailed and called Ustream for further comment and will update if they respond.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.



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