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Facebook Says It's Finally Ready to Start Cracking Down on Video Pirates

Facebook says it's starting to work on a version of YouTube's Content ID system. It has a long way to go.

Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney
Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

A year after it started making a big push into video, Facebook is acknowledging it has a video piracy problem. And it says it’s going to start fixing it.

Facebook is rolling out a “video matching technology” that will let content owners tell Facebook that a video clip belongs to them, and take it down if it’s not supposed to be there.

It’s the first step to creating the equivalent of YouTube’s Content ID system, which the video giant built up over years as a response to its own copyright/piracy problems. After years of ignoring video, Facebook is now a major player, so this kind of effort was obvious and overdue.

“We’ve heard from some of our content partners that third parties too frequently misuse their content on Facebook,” Facebook said in a blog post today. “It’s not fair to those who work hard to create amazing videos. We want creators to get credit for the videos that they own.”

Over the past year Facebook has encouraged users to post and view videos on its own player, and in April it said Facebook users were watching four billion clips a day; industry observers assume the number is much bigger now.

Facebook’s anti-piracy rollout is just starting, and its partners say they have just started testing the new technology, which requires content owners to upload the clips they want to protect into Facebook’s system.

In order for Facebook to fully replicate YouTube’s Content ID system, it will have to create a way for content owners to leave their stuff up on the site, and share ad revenue the clips generate. That requires a lot of business development work, and Facebook isn’t close to getting that together yet — it’s only starting, for instance, to figure out ways to share ad revenue with video owners.

Facebook’s response comes after video makers and distributors have grown increasingly vocal about pirated videos, which by one estimate accounted for more than 70 percent of Facebook’s most popular videos. In May, Jukin Media, a video licensing agency best known for “Fail” clips, described Facebook’s copyright problems as “massive.” In June, Fullscreen CEO George Strompolos, who runs one of the biggest YouTube video networks, tweeted that he was “getting very tired of seeing our videos ripped there with no way to monitor or monetize.”

Now Facebook says Jukin and Fullscreen are two of its initial launch partners for the new technology, along with Zefr, a service company that helps content owners track their clips on YouTube. Facebook says it is also working with major media companies on the effort, but won’t identify them.

“It’s early,” said Strompolos, a former YouTube executive. He says Facebook’s current technology is “about uploading clips, almost one at a time. We’re kicking the tires.”

Strompolos says that despite his public complaints, Facebook executives have been helpful behind the scenes and have listened to advice and requests from video veterans.

The fact that Facebook is just starting its efforts now isn’t surprising, he said: “I think Facebook is a product and engineering company. And I think companies like that tend to want to create the experience first and then figure out the rules later.”

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