ForbesYouTube's DoppelgangerMon Feb 12, 2007 01:24
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Andy Greenberg 11.29.06, 6:00 AM ET
t's getting tougher and tougher to break copyright law on YouTube these days. The site now performs frequent purges of television shows and other proprietary content uploaded by users. But those forbidden files can still be had. They've largely migrated to DailyMotion.com, another video-uploading site that replicates YouTube's model of user-provided videos. DailyMotion, by contrast, seems to do little if any regulation of copyrighted material, nor does it limit the lengths of clips.
At any given time, DailyMotion hosts hundreds of copyrighted television episodes, allowing users to watch the shows free of charge and without commercials. And try as they might, television networks have had little success in plugging the streaming-video leaks in their intellectual property dam.
DailyMotion, based in Paris, displays no advertisements and has no apparent source of revenue. Its executives couldn't be reached for comment, and its business model remains a mystery. But if the site's goal is to build a large audience before seeking profit, it's starting to succeed. Its market share, though a tiny 0.22% compared to YouTube's 65%, has increased 300% in the past three months, according to researchers at the Web analysis firm Hitwise. DailyMotion recently claimed its millionth registered user, and according to analysts at ComScore Media Metrix, the site had 7.6 million unique visitors in September.
DailyMotion's store of contraband has lately been attracting the attention of a more entrepreneurial set of technorati. The site's fans have created a small industry of "portals," amateur pages that catalog entire seasons of television shows and link to those shows on DailyMotion's France-based servers. Many of these 30 or so portal sites display their own advertisements, reaping a profit from their copyright-infringing videos.
John Pace, a 17-year-old student who lives in Buffalo, N.Y., runs the portal site myturn.tvheaven.com. TVHeaven links to every episode of shows like The Simpsons and South Park on DailyMotion, and Pace says that in the first three weeks after his site's launch, its traffic has grown to about 2,500 daily hits. By hosting Google (nasdaq: GOOG - news - people ) AdSense ads at the bottom of his page, he makes about $5 a day.
"Max," an administrator of the DailyMotion portal site All South Park, who provided only his last name and would communicate only through instant messenger, claims to earn an average of $220 a day from his site's ads. The portal has been up for only about four months, and its traffic is growing quickly, according to the British college student. He plans to spend the thousands of dollars he's accumulating on a BMW.
Pace, "Max," and other portal administrators claim that their pet projects are legal. Many offer disclaimers on their sites, pointing out that their servers host no copyrighted content. "I let people watch the shows for free, I make a little money for my time and I'm not breaking any laws," Pace says. "I'm simply linking to videos hosted by another site."
That legal argument doesn't quite hold water, says John Palfrey, a professor at Harvard Law's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Because the portal sites have no use other than aiding copyright infringement, he argues they're illegal under American copyright law.
It's unclear, however, whether DailyMotion specifically is infringing copyrights. Jason Schultz of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a technology rights advocacy group, says the site might be protected by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's "safe harbor" provision. That provision allows sites to host infringing content if they aren't aware of it, don't profit from it and remove any infringing content immediately upon the copyright holder's request.
Google is making a similar argument to ensure the legal use of YouTube, its recent $1.65 million acquisition. But YouTube also aggressively removes copyrighted material from the site and limits uploaded video clips to ten minutes.
A spokesperson for Fox Network owner News Corp. (nyse: NWS - news - people ), whose shows like The Simpsons and Family Guy have often been uploaded to DailyMotion, said in an e-mail that takedown notices sent to the site are beginning to have some effect in removing infringing content. But it's an uphill battle: When Fox demands that the site's administrators remove a video, users can simply upload the file again within minutes. "It's kind of a whack-a-mole situation," Schultz says.
Similarly, networks might be hard-pressed to stamp out the mini-industry of video portals linking to those files. Several popular portals, like All Simpsons and Daily Episodes, have already caved under pressure from Fox and removed their links to DailyMotion. But the Internet television audience is only growing, and new sites are constantly being created to fill the void.
"What they're trying to do is like getting a bubble out from behind wallpaper," says Steve Thompson, whose DailyMotion links site, Quicksilverscreen.com, connects users with 22,000 videos a day. "If you try to squash the bubble under your thumb, it just moves."
According to the EFF's Schultz, networks will have to learn to co-exist with sites that pirate content, or the corporations may even offer their own commercial-free sites on the Web. "Companies like Fox are slowly realizing that this is inevitable," he says. "So maybe eventually Fox will have its own portal."
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