Site's video section the Web's third biggest

MySpace is playing tough with YouTube by playing nice with Hollywood.

In a direct swipe at its biggest competitor in the video space, News Corp.-owned MySpace is launching a new program today to voluntarily filter out copyrighted content for any video or music owner that requests it.

As evidenced by its public spat with Viacom, YouTube and its corporate owner Google aren’t yet proactively stopping users from uploading copyrighted content. Instead, big media companies have to issue requests that YouTube remove copyrighted clips, as Viacom did with more than 100,000 clips earlier this month. (Daily Variety, Feb, 5)

Social networking site MySpace previously had the same policy for its viral video section, the Web’s third biggest after YouTube and Google Video. It will now allow studios, networks, labels, and other content holders to request that some or all of their content be preemptively filtered regardless of whether they have a content distribution deal.

One of Viacom’s major complaints was that YouTube refused to filter out pirated content until it agreed to terms for a content distribution deal. YouTube claims it is in the midst of rolling out its system to filter copyrighted videos, though it has thus far only said that the technology would be offered to companies with which it strikes a deal.

By allowing content owners to filter their content from the site regardless of whether they are working together, MySpace is angling to become the online distributor of choice for Hollywood, giving it a wide array of premium content to offer users and avoiding fights like the one between Viacom and YouTube.

Antipiracy technology company Audible Magic is working with MySpace on the system. When content owners register their libraries, Audible Magic is able to screen the sound on an uploaded clip or song to tell whether it’s pirated. It is also working on technology that can detect pirated videos regardless of whether the sound has been altered.

Content owners can set rules allowing some or none of their content to be uploaded, and only by users it authorizes.

“MySpace is dedicated to ensuring that content owners, whether large or small, can both promote and protect their content in our community,” said MySpace topper Chris DeWolfe in a statement. “For MySpace, video filtering is about protecting artists and the work they create.”

In November, MySpace announced a deal with Gracenote to filter pirated songs. But that project never went far and the Netco is now switching to Audible Magic and adding video filtering.

Audible Magic is already working with several other Netcos to filter audio and with Sony Pictures-owned Grouper to block copyrighted video.

Universal Music will be the first company to have some of its content filtered in the program. It is in the midst of a lawsuit against MySpace, leading the site to be especially cautious about allowing more UMG content to be uploaded.

MySpace will start by screening content as it is uploaded, and eventually attempt to identify pirated content among the millions of videos and songs previously uploaded onto its site.

Netco is already in talks with labels, studios and networks about joining the program. Fox, which shares a corporate owner with MySpace, will undoubtedly be one of the first.

If it is able to block the content that studios, networks and labels don’t want shared, MySpace may be better able to offer other clips that owners do want online for promotional purposes, as well as to strike pacts to distribute content for big media companies and split advertising revenue.

YouTube already has such a deal with CBS.

It also risks, however, alienating users who are used to looking for pirated content and sampling copyrighted music and video for their own work. Such clips, even if legally allowed as “fair use,” often get screened out by antipiracy technology.

Universal Music’s lawsuits against MySpace, Grouper and Bolt.com will establish whether a policy such as the one MySpace is adopting is legally necessary to avoid liability for piracy, or if video sites only need to take down content when requested by copyright owners.

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