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elanOrenWebOn the surface, Israeli start-up Vidyatel’s mission is to prevent unauthorized use of copyrighted video content by people who don’t pay the copyright holder for the privilege of doing so. But Vidyatel has another, more important message for us: Stop being so lazy! You’re smart, creative and intelligent – and there’s no reason you can’t come up with original content for the videos you upload to services like Metacafe. Why stick that oh-so-lame “I’ll be back” clip in your video? What does Arnold Schwarzenegger have that you don’t, anyway?

Lazy or not, though, it’s time to stop using other people’s digital video property, says Vidyatel CEO Elan Oren – and his company has developed an effective way of making sure you keep copyrighted movies and TV clips out of your personal videos.

Jerusalem-based Vidyatel is a player in what has become, over the past couple of years, an area of major interest for Internet video- hosting services: figuring out ways of avoiding litigation by owners of commercial video, such as movies and TV shows, against sites that don’t do a thorough job of catching offending clips themselves.

The issue became a top concern for video hosting sites after Viacom sued Youtube, owned by Google, for a billion dollars over Youtube’s lax policies when it came to allowing users to upload videos containing clips from Viacom properties, such as The Daily Show and MTV videos. While Google may have deep enough pockets to cover the bill if it loses, hundreds of other sites don’t – hence the interest in Vidyatel and the several other companies that specialize in detecting and reporting copyrighted content on video sites.

The Vidyatel difference is in the technology, Elan says. “We use visual-perception technology to determine if copyrighted content is being used – meaning we can tell just by looking at a clip if it contains even a small amount of copyrighted content,” he says.

Vidyatel’s application can sweep a video site and check out each clip, comparing its contents to a database of original copyrighted content. If an offending video is found, the site hosts and/or copyright owners are notified, depending on the arrangement. The site can then automatically reject a video on upload, ensuring that the video never makes it on-line.

The innovation that Vidyatel brings to the table, however, is the ability to check a clip against not the whole copy of a film, which would occupy hundreds of megabytes of space on Vidyatel servers, but against a “video fingerprint” – a compressed index of sampled scenes in a copyrighted video work. The system saves space for Vidyatel, and saves time for clients, as the analysis can be done much more quickly.

“With video fingerprinting, we can seek out even small clips embedded in on-line videos, whether they’re used ‘straight,’ are dubbed in another language, or are part of a ‘mashup,’ where the elements are sliced and diced,” Elan says, adding that the system is very effective and “nearly foolproof.”

But Elan is no sheriff, he says; his aim is not to prosecute, but to inform. “Our job is to help copyright holders claim their content. Once they know the situation, they can more easily decide where to go with the information,” he says. “Some content owners we work with have chosen to allow sites to host clips of up to a certain length without getting involved, while others have seen use of their clips as an opportunity to build a new revenue stream, getting royalties off the clips used in uploaded videos.”

And while one would think the automatic reaction of a hosting site presented with a royalty bill by a copyright holder would be to dump the lot of offending pieces, that doesn’t have to be the case either, Elan says. “Once a content owner works out an arrangement with a video site,” he says, “it gives that site the imprimatur of legitimacy – meaning that advertisers who have avoided the hosting site until now because they feared they could get tainted by association with copyright offenders would be willing to advertise, since the threat of a lawsuit is now removed.”

Thus a whole new market is created, allowing uploaders to legally use clips, content creators to benefit from the uploads, and sites to reap the benefits of increased advertising.

“We can check the clips and wrap ‘business logic’ rules around the process, enabling content owners to put their policies into practice, whether it is rejecting it, allowing the file to be posted without restriction, or instituting revenue sharing with hosting sites,” Elan says.

If there’s anyone, in fact, who is up on both sides of the copyright argument – the tension between copyrighted content owners zealous to defend their financial interests, versus the desire of consumers to have unfettered access to digital versions of their favorite creative works, it’s Elan; he learned the subject from the ground up as CEO of none other than iMesh, once among the largest file-sharing service in the world. iMesh was the one of first popular music-sharing programs.

Although it would seem odd that a one-time “enabler” of unmonitored file-sharing would make an about-face and become an enabler of content owner’s rights, it actually makes perfect sense, says Elan.

“We at iMesh were the first, in 2004, to work out content deals with copyright owners,” he says. “It was always part of our business plan, and although it took awhile, we finally convinced them that using the Internet as a distribution medium made sense.”

In a way, iMesh paved the way for record companies to look at the Internet as a legitimate way to do business – and maybe Vidyatel’s work in preserving the rights of video content owners will lead to a whole new way for consumers to watch movies and TV.

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