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Facebook's Ronda Rousey Problem -- Which May Not Be a Problem for Facebook at All

Facebook video is taking off. So are questions about the way it handles copyright violations.

Celso Pupo / Shutterstock.com

YouTube started 10 years ago and quickly became the world’s biggest video site. That meant it was full of video clips that shouldn’t have been there, because the people who uploaded clips like “Lazy Sunday” didn’t have the rights to do so.

Fast-forward to now: Facebook is suddenly challenging YouTube’s dominance in Web video. It is also full of clips that shouldn’t be there.

When YouTube consisted of a few dozen employees working for Chad Hurley and Steve Chen, the company dealt with copyright violations manually. A rep from NBC or Viacom or wherever would call up YouTube employees (an office manager gave her cell number out to media companies to expedite things), tell them they owned the copyright to such and such clip, and then someone from YouTube would find and disappear the clip.

In 2006, Google bought YouTube and over time built out a “Content ID” system — part software, part business rules — that automated much of the process. It gives copyright owners the opportunity to take unauthorized clips down with a couple of keystrokes — or make money from them via advertising.

Facebook says it is working on its own system. But in the meantime it appears to be operating the way YouTube did in 2005 — takedowns happen slowly, one at a time, if they happen at all. Ten years ago, this seemed to be a very pressing issue for both YouTube and the entertainment industry. Right now, though, there doesn’t seem to be the same angst.

Yesterday, for instance, I noticed that a clip showing the entirety of Saturday’s Ronda Rousey/Bethe Correia fight — all 34 seconds of it — was in my Facebook feed. Many other people had noticed it as well.

When I saw the clip in the late afternoon, Facebook said it had generated 20 million views, racking up 327,000 likes and 35,900 comments over 15 hours. It was there courtesy of Emma Valdez, who says she is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu aficionado and posts on Facebook under the name BJJ Girl; the video looked like Valdez or someone else had held a phone in front of a TV and recorded the fight on their camera.

You can also find footage of the Rousey-Correia fight on YouTube. But it’s a lot harder to do so, and most of the YouTube clips that say they have full footage of the fight really don’t — instead, it’s someone talking about the fight or showing stills of it. That’s very likely because Ultimate Fighting Championship, the company that produced the fight, worked with YouTube and its Content ID system to keep full footage of the fight off of YouTube.

BJJ Girl’s clip eventually came down, too. Facebook won’t comment about what happened, and I haven’t heard from the UFC people, but my hunch is that someone at UFC (who knows — maybe they saw my tweet about it) eventually lodged a complaint directly with Facebook, which removed it. In any case, by Facebook’s count, the footage had been circulating on its network for more than 15 hours before it disappeared.

Facebook representatives have a stock answer when someone asks them about video copyright violations. They offered it up to me when I asked them about it a month ago, and their reps referred me to the same answer today. Tl;dr: We’re working on it.

Full version:

“We take intellectual property rights very seriously. This is not new to Facebook.

We have a number of measures in place to address potential infringements on our service. For years we’ve used the Audible Magic system to help prevent unauthorized video content. We also have reporting tools in place to allow content owners to report potential copyright infringement, and upon receiving a valid notice we remove unauthorized content. We also suspend accounts of people with repeated IP violations when appropriate.

As video continues to grow on Facebook, we’re actively exploring further solutions to help IP owners identify and manage potential infringing content, tailored for our unique platform and ecosystem.

This is a significant technical challenge to solve, but we have a team working on it and expect to have more to share this summer. As with all products and experiences on Facebook, we’re listening to feedback, and want to continue to improve our content management tools for people and publishers.”

Industry sources say Facebook is indeed “actively exploring further solutions” for this. They believe Facebook has already built out the basic tools it will need to police copyright infringement more robustly and to automate takedowns. And they believe Facebook is now working on the other part of the equation — creating a set of business rules that allow copyright owners to leave their stuff up on the site and share the ad revenue the clips create.

But it’s a little odd that Facebook, which is chock full of really smart people, is only getting around to this now, after methodically building out a video product for the last year-plus.

Hank Green, a well-known YouTube video producer (who, along with his brother John, also produces the Vidcon YouTube fan convention), is generating a lot of chatter today in the industry with a Medium post in which he says Facebook’s we’ll-get-to-it-when-we-get-to-it approach to copyright is “inexcusable.”

More to the point, he says it is quite intentional: He thinks Facebook has deliberately used copyrighted material to help accelerate its video rollout and will get around to fixing it “conveniently after having made their initial claims at being the biggest, most important thing in video.”

I’m not convinced that this is true, since big, complex companies often have more than one reason for behaving the way they behave. But it certainly sounds plausible. After all, it worked out just fine for YouTube.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.