Youku Suddenly Gets Religion On IP Protection? Not Exactly

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Chinese online video website Youku.com today opened its copyright identification management platform to identify and prevent the upload of infringing video content by Youku users.

Youku Chief Technology Officer Yao Jian stated: “Trial operation of the copyright identification system has already begun for European and American audio-video copyright holders. Following this initial stage of operations, we will continue to improve and perfect the system, making it more efficient and more convenient to use.” (China Tech News)

OK, I understand that such an announcement by a Chinese site that everyone knows has major copyright problems seems dramatic and unexpected. Most local companies spend more of their time dismissing charges of IP infringement than devising ways to combat piracy. In that sense, Youku of course should be congratulated for moving forward with this system.

However, let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that Youku suddenly “gets” the whole problem with IP infringement and that the industry has somehow turned a corner.

Cary Hooper at Shanghaiist, one of my favorite sources of China info, has understandably bought into the hype:

Whoa: in an unprecedented move for a Chinese company, Youku announced their new copyright identification management platform on their blog today. Needless to say, Youku is the first Chinese company to attempt regulation of intellectual property rights on the internet.

[ . . . ]

[T]this looks like the most legitimate attempt to enforce intellectual property rights we’ve seen yet.

Note to Youku corporate communications folks: mission accomplished.

Youku’s move is undoubtedly a positive one, but in doing so it is merely following others in the industry who have cobbled together such systems as a prophylactic measure against litigation brought by content owners. (Yes, I did use the word “prophylactic” — stop snickering and grow up.)

Basically, Youku is just following the law and complying with a mandatory provision. One year ago, I wrote a couple of posts on Net litigation in China, with a focus on video file sharing sites. (Part I, Part II.) My opinion at the time was that China litigation in this area was generally following that of the US, and that suits by copyright owners would further push video file sharing sites to establish mandatory Notice and Takedown systems that would inoculate the sites from liability.

The goal of such systems is not to ensure that the site in question is  infringement free, but rather that the system provides a reasonable opportunity for content owners to have infringing files removed. As long as a judge says that the system is good enough, then you don’t have to worry about liability.

Tudou was an early player:

Tudou is putting together a notice and takedown procedure designed to limit their liability. I would love to see the details, how the plan is ultimately implemented, and what effect the program will have on incidents of copyright infringement moving forward. Then we’ll see whether the program will help in shielding Tudou from all those rapacious lawyers working for IP owners.

That was one year ago. Youku’s announcement in early 2010 therefore doesn’t impress me all that much with respect to timeliness. Moreover, since last year, litigation has proceeded apace, and if Tudou felt compelled to set up an anti-infringement system back then, you can bet that Youku must have felt even more urgency one year later.

So let’s nod our heads at Youku for following the law, but let’s not give them too much credit. This is a legal requirement that was finally implemented due to fears of litigation.