October 2012 — VCM Task Force Update

The VCM Project team is making great progress with pilot members

In the world of YouTube — why does U-M need VCM?

By John Merlin Williams

I sometimes get asked about the need for a U-M-managed video content management system when free and widely-viewed alternatives like YouTube, Vimeo and UStream excel at delivering video to public audiences. My response begins with the acknowledgement that distribution services like these will always be an important way for many people to discover the richness of learning, research and daily life at the University of Michigan. We probably cannot do without them — when we want to share things with the widest audience these services make our videos easily discoverable by anyone with Internet access.

But what if the problem is that your uploaded video never even appears on one of these valuable sites? Video streaming services are under significant pressure from copyright owners (and their agents) to identify and block uploaded content that appears to infringe their copyrights. Many streaming services have agreed to aggressive practices, like YouTube's "ContentID" system, to demonstrate compliance. They contract with third-party vendors that process all uploads with screening algorithms designed to match new content against libraries of millions of recorded works to spot possible violations. A recent spate of what appear to be spurious take-downs of high-profile streaming video (e.g., the Hugo Awards ceremony, live coverage of the Curiosity rover landing) by unmoderated copyright policing algorithms prompted the following coverage: "The Algorithmic Copyright Cops: Streaming Video's Robotic Overlords" (Wired.com, September 2012)

The sheer volume of content and the complexity of the automated policing process make human judgment and intervention essentially impossible. These practices are especially hurtful to live broadcasts (imagine: a live U-M Commencement broadcast, or a web stream of a visiting poet laureate).

This is a very dynamic topic and it is only fair to point out that a few days after the above news story YouTube amended some of its ContentID practices (I'm not aware of any other services that have), described here (quotes from "YouTube finally offers a meaningful ContentID appeal process" (ArsTechnica, October 2012):

"…if an 'eligible' user disputes a ContentID claim, the 'content owner' will have only two options. It can release the claim, allowing the video to go back up. Or it can file a formal takedown notice under the DMCA."

"…Under the DMCA, YouTube is supposed to wait 10 days to restore a user's video after receiving a counter notification. Moreover, YouTube has a 'three strikes' system, which means that each time anyone submits a DMCA takedown request, its owner gets a 'strike' on his account. YouTube says that 'if you receive three copyright strikes, your account and all videos uploaded to that account will be removed'…"

While the revised YouTube policy is an improvement, it's incumbent on the video uploader to dispute the automated takedown. Think of the time spent by U-M faculty and professional staff processing the paperwork and responses to what may well be spurious takedown notices.

While it certainly doesn't protect all of U-M's content uses, having video delivery systems, like the VCM system we are piloting, enable us to do more than preserve our branding or protect copyrighted material in course sites. It seems essential that the proper legal use of our own content not depend on organizations driven to comply with commercial obligations at the expense of educational priorities.

John Merlin Williams is a member of the VCM Executive Steering Committee, the executive producer of the Digital Media Commons and the Director of the James and Anne Duderstadt Center.

What kinds of videos do you need to manage?

Tell us about the different ways video is used in your unit. The information will help the project team identify unique scenarios to address before the VCM service is broadened across campus. Additionally, the information will help the project team with strategic communications and implementation planning.