In mid-April, Facebook unveiled a new tool to help copyright holders combat infringing behavior. The move comes after digital content creators alleged that Facebook was building its growing video-sharing platform by acquiescing to third parties’ posting of videos originally uploaded elsewhere (known as “freebooting”). Critics of freebooting argue that the practice hurts creators by siphoning off views (and thus ad revenue from them and the original video platform, such as YouTube). The new tool, called Rights Manager, is Facebook’s attempt to end these illegal practices and encourage digital-content creators to bring more of their content to Facebook’s video-sharing platform.
Rights Manager will allow copyright holders to upload videos, including unpublished or yet-to-be-published videos, to a Facebook database. Facebook will then automatically compare this database with all posted videos and flag those with potentially infringing content. The content owner will then have the ability to decide what happens to the potentially infringing video, from leaving the video alone to filing a formal copyright claim with Facebook. Further, Rights Manager allows content creators to pre-determine outcomes when videos are flagged, like permitting certain types of uses or “whitelisting” certain pages, giving them pre-permission to post copyrighted work. Such automation allows content creators to stay on top of the billions of video views on Facebook each day.
Much of the Rights Manager system is similar to that of Content ID on YouTube and Copyright Match on Vimeo. However, there are some key differences. Unlike Content ID, copyright holders won’t have the ability to monetize infringing works for themselves—an important feature for many copyright holders. It is also unclear whether Rights Manager will offer the formal internal appeals process of Content ID and Copyright Match. In those mechanisms, the alleged infringer has an opportunity to justify her use, with arguments like fair use. However, Rights Manager will compare its database of copyrighted material to live streams, a feature currently unavailable on Content ID or Copyright Match.
With the addition of Rights Manager, Facebook joins the other dominant video-sourcing companies’ commitment to protecting copyrighted material. While some industry participants have criticized tools like Content ID for not adequately protecting copyrighted work or failing to properly consider fair use, these industry-created self-help mechanisms provide an efficient alternative to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act take-down procedure, the statutory provisions of the DMCA, and seeking redress in federal courts.
While originally Facebook limited the Rights Manager launch to a few select companies, Facebook is currently expanding the service via an application and appears to acknowledge that Rights Manager will only work effectively with larger industry participation.
Rights Manager is a positive development for all parties involved in the posting of digital content online. WLF has consistently advocated for and applauded self-help forms of intellectual property protection here on the WLF Legal Pulse (see here, here, and here). Rights Manager fits this same mold, and if used correctly, it could effectively stem the tide of freebooting on Facebook.