According to the United States government and some of the world’s most powerful entertainment companies, Russian Facebook equivalent vKontakte is one of the Internet’s largest sources of piracy. However, the social networking giant now appears to be listening, with reports that the company will install YouTube-style music and video fingerprinting technology in order to block infringing content at the point of upload.
The United States Trade Representative, the MPAA and in particular the RIAA/IFPI have very few positive things to say about vKontakte.
The social networking giant allows its 40 million daily users to upload their music collections meaning that the site has become one of the world’s largest sources of unauthorized music to be found anywhere on the planet.
Making matters worse for the labels is that content stored on vKontakte has often been made available for download through numerous other apps and websites utilizing the company’s API.
As a result vKontakte has been branded a “notorious market” by the USTR and put under pressure by the likes of the IFPI, who say that the huge Internet business has built itself up on infringing content. Following years of inaction, there are now signs that vKontakte is beginning to listen.
In June 2013 before the implementation of Russia’s new anti-piracy law, reports surfaced that music was becoming harder to find on vKontakte with results for some leading artists drawing blanks.
The company put this down to copyright holders sending many more takedown notices than ever before. Indeed, it soon became apparent that some companies had previously been given moderator access to remove their content from vKontakte directly. Nevertheless, rumors began to circulate that vKontakte might have deployed some other kind of anti-piracy system.
The company has since admitted that it has developed a technology designed to stop users from uploading content that has previously been marked as infringing.
“For each track which receives a copyright holder complaint we create an acoustic impression,” said vKontake spokesperson Lobushkin George. “Downloading the exact same copy will be difficult.”
The system is not without its flaws. One local artist, Noize MC, complained that he would like to make his music available on the social network but since someone already marked someone else’s upload as infringing, the system now bans him from doing so. Another artist, DJ Dmitry Diamonds, said that after sending in a complaint of someone infringing his copyrights his own uploaded music disappeared from his official page.
But despite the teething problems, it appears that vKontakte intends to expand the system.
According to content owners who spoke with Izvestia, vKontakte will now introduce fingerprinting in order to tackle infringing video uploads at source. Representatives from the social networking site declined to comment but sources at several media companies suggest that the the anti-piracy system will be similar to YouTube’s Content ID.
At least three media companies have struck deals with vKontakte to publish their content legally on the networking site alongside the ability to remove infringing content with fingerprinting.
“There is currently only one type of interaction: illegal content is removed in response to a request from us,” said deputy general director of CTC Media Sergei Petrov. “We look forward to the new tool, as it can greatly facilitate the fight against pirates.”
According to Amedia president Alexander Akopova the fingerprinting technology was vKontakte’s idea. It will remove the need to constantly search the site for illicit content and will also eliminate problems caused by users renaming files.
“The management of VKontakte made the right move by creating such a system,” says Akopov. “I am glad that it was their own initiative.”
Wide agreements on a filtering and takedown system with copyright holders will help vKontakte avoid many of the perils of the new anti-piracy law introduced August 1. Currently the social networking site can be bombarded with complaints which have the potential to take the site offline if not properly handled, but formal agreements might be enough to keep rightholders happy.
It’s even possible that these moves will be enough to appease the USTR, IFPI and MPAA. Finding out should be just a few months away.