SAN JOSE, Calif. - It is commonly believed that Google bought YouTube for $1.6 billion because the wildly popular video-sharing site represented a great way for the search giant to expand into video advertising.
It turns out the site could bring an even bigger benefit to the Mountain View, Calif., company: It may provide a way for Google to easily and legally amass the world’s biggest database of film and video - a database it could use to refine ways to search that kind of material.
Google confirmed Tuesday it would begin testing a system that would allow copyright holders to automatically remove unauthorized content from YouTube. Disney, Time Warner and some unidentified content owners will be participating, which will start next month.
“What we are trying to do is get this to work for YouTube’s entire library,” said spokesman Ricardo Reyes.
Google had been using technology provided by Audible Magic, a Los Gatos, Calif.-based company that identifies copyrighted material by creating a digital fingerprint of a song or video and comparing it to a database of copyrighted works. That deal was first reported by the San Jose Mercury News in February.
The technology, which focuses on fingerprinting audio tracks, is used by video-sharing sites like MySpace, Microsoft (Soapbox), Break.com, Dailymotion, Eyespot, GoFish and Grouper to identify both copyrighted music and video.
Google, however, used the technology only to filter music, and said Tuesday it would create its own system for videos.
That system would involve having the participating entertainment companies provide their material, which Google would add to a giant database of video content that it would maintain.
The issue of culling out offending content became especially critical for Google when Viacom and other entertainment giants requested that YouTube remove more than 100,000 unauthorized clips and prevent users from posting unauthorized copies of movies, television shows, music videos and other copyrighted works.
Viacom subsequently sued Google for massive copyright infringement in March, seeking $1 billion in damages. Viacom and other entertainment companies have complained that Google tried to force them to do deals to license their content by refusing to protect copyrights in the absence of an agreement.
And Google has come under fire for the way it has handled the copyright issue from others. Lou Solomon, an attorney at Proskauer Rose who has filed a class action suit against Google and YouTube on behalf of content owners such as France’s professional soccer league and national tennis association, said Google’s agreement with Audible Magic proves that it already had the capability to police its site.
“Content owners should have a choice whether someone takes their property or not,” he said.
But Josh Bernoff, an analyst with Forrester Research, said Google’s approach could end up benefiting the company. While YouTube’s users may object to the new filtering system, nearly all YouTube’s competitors have put similar systems in place, leaving unhappy users with few options.
Buried in the news about the filtering announcement were hints of a different agenda at work at the search engine giant. Bernoff noted that the creation of a massive database of video content could give Google an advantage in solving the problem of video search. “The key is to have a huge amount of material to apply your algorithms to,” he said.
Some observers said $1.6 billion could end up being a cheap price to pay for a collection of the world’s most valuable video. For instance, Google plans to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to create the world’s largest library of digital books.
Still, Vance Ikezoye, the chief executive of Audible Magic, wondered if content owners would be willing to provide Google with copies of their work. “I believe the value we provide is that we are a third party who is independent,” he said.