Vimeo Starts Scanning Videos For Copyright Infringement

Vimeo has taken a page out of YouTube’s book and introduced a system to automatically scan videos for copyrighted content.

The New York-based company announced the system, called Copyright Match, in a blog post. Similar to YouTube’s Content ID system, they will take a “fingerprint” of every video uploaded to Vimeo and check it against a database of “third party copyrighted material.”

The “fingerprint” will be based solely on audio, not video content. If a match is detected, the IAC-owned company will email the uploaded and give them the option to either (1) delete/replace the video, or (2) appeal the match by claiming that either it was an error, that the content was used with permission, or used under ‘fair use,’ which allows creators to use copyrighted material under certain circumstances.

The company plans to mitigate, what it says are the “many issues common to other copyright-detecting systems” by having a human moderator evaluate appeals on a case-by-case basis. This is something that is only possible because of Vimeo’s scale. With ‘just’ 170 million visitors per month and a much slower upload pace than YouTube’s unbelievable 100+ hours of video uploaded every minute, they can effectively take on this task without hiring an army of moderators. But it remains to be seen how effective their moderators will be – Especially when it comes to complex judgement like fair use. Only a judge can accurately determine fair use when that use is disputed. By interjecting themselves into the fair use process, Vimeo could open itself up to serious legal penalties.

YouTube Copyright Claim

“We want people to be able to express themselves in the ways they see fit, but we also want to respect the boundaries of copyright law and the rights of other creators,” Vimeo’s director of support and community Darnell Witt wrote in the post.

A company called Audible Magic will process the “fingerprints” collected by Copyright Match. Audible Magic is one of the leading content recognition services available, with an extensive database of copyrighted content and a client list that includes the likes of Soundcloud and Facebook.

Vimeo claims the system is necessary because they are growing to the point that a semi-automated system is necessary for them to enforce their terms and conditions, and protect their safe harbor position under copyright law.

Video services like Vimeo and YouTube are heavily reliant on the “Safe Harbor” provisions, which protects them from copyright infringement by their users so long as they remove the infringing content when copyright holders tell them about it. However, under the current Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which is the copyright law most relevant to online video services, Vimeo is not required to use automated systems or even attempt to identify copyrighted material before a copyright holder notifies them that it exists on its service. YouTube’s own Content ID system was created specifically to placate MTV’s parent company Viacom, who had engaged in a long and expensive legal battle with the company when users started uploading large amounts of their content to the service.

This move certainly gives Vimeo more credibility with both big publishers and creators. But could this also be a sign of major changes to the DMCA? – Congress has discussed the issue of copyright in the 21st century regularly, and changes to the act are expected. Could automated systems eventually be a legal requirement for companies like Vimeo?

Stephen Doble

From his London office, Stephen leads our new media industry coverage at Videoter.