Company's letter offers anti-piracy aid

Looking to strengthen ties with Hollywood as it delves deeper into online video, Microsoft on Tuesday sent a memo to top execs at all the major media congloms offering to work closely with them to combat piracy, but not to implement the kind of filtering technology Viacom is demanding on YouTube.

Confidential memo obtained by Daily Variety was sent by Microsoft to media toppers such as Peter Chernin, Jeff Zucker and Bob Iger as well as heads of the major labels. It outlines the tech giant’s approach to Soapbox, its newly launched viral video service on MSN that is going up against YouTube, MySpace Video and others.

In the letter, media and entertainment VP Blair Westlake said Microsoft is developing “what we believe content owners want and need: industry-leading notice and takedown … practices, including tools that enable our content partners to more easily find content that is rightfully theirs and give us prompt notice so we can respond even more efficiently and expeditiously.”

There’s no mention of filtering technology that prevents users from uploading copyrighted content. YouTube claims it is developing such a system, but that it has been delayed, while Viacom and other congloms have been complaining the Netco only wants to implement it for media companies that sign content distribution and revenue-sharing deals.

MySpace recently started implementing technology from Audible Magic that it says will filter copyrighted content from studios, networks or diskeries that provide information on videos they want kept out.

Sources at Microsoft said the company doesn’t yet consider any filtering technologies on the market to be effective enough for itself and users. “Filtering is a complex issue and not a magic bullet,” one person at the company said. “We believe this approach actually provides content owners more control than if Microsoft attempted to monitor content itself.”

Many critics have complained filtering technology isn’t precise and sometimes screens out content that is similar to other copyrighted material or is legally used, such as short clips for parody.

However, takedown requests by big media companies aren’t perfect either. When Viacom told YouTube to pull more than 100,000 clips featuring its content, some users complained their personal videos were inaccurately named by the conglom and removed in the process.

Soapbox, which is still in a public beta trial run and has a miniscule amount of content and visitors compared with YouTube, already has numerous copyrighted clips from “South Park,” “High School Musical,” “American Idol” and other TV shows, films and musicvideos.

Staying on Hollywood’s good side is a priority for Microsoft, which distributes studio movies and TV shows on its Xbox Live service and licenses its Windows Media DRM to virtually every music and video download store except iTunes.

Though most congloms have indicated they would prefer to see their copyrighted content filtered out, a person at one major studio indicated they’re pleased to see Microsoft proactively reaching out, noting it’s a preferable approach compared with many other online video operators.

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