Is AdBrite Encouraging Content Theft?

Last week the popular Advertising service AdBrite announced their new InVideo product that wraps advertisements in and around video files pointed to the Web, letting producers profit from both views and ad clicks on their site, but also on other sites when the video is shared.

The product, which is currently in beta, was greeted with a glowing review on TechCrunch and seemed to be gaining momentum. However, comments to the TechCrunch article began to express concern regarding content and bandwidth theft issues regarding the service, concerns that were later echoed in other blog posts.

Even the makers of the controversial Feedpass RSS product jumped in on the debate, accusing Mike Arrington, the author of the AdBrite review, of holding AdBrite to a double standard. Arrington has adamantly denied the accusation.

The result is that AdBrite InVideo, even without being released fully to the public, has already become the most controversial advertising product since Pay Per Post and it doesn’t appear that the debate is going to die down soon.

The Nature of the Controversy

In order to understand why InVideo is so controversial, one has to first understand how sites such as YouTube and Google Video work.

Most major video sites work by converting video files into a Flash video format or (extension .FLV). The FLV files are then hosted on their server and played through another flash controller that wraps around and allows users to play, pause, fast forward and rewind the video. Through it all, the FLV file is still stored on the server and many programs, including some sites, can access and download the file directly. There are even Windows programs that can play FLV files.

The AdBrite InVideo player is an FLV controller, similar to one Youtube users. It allows the user to play and browse the video but also displays ads and a logo over the original FLV file. However, unlike Youtube, Google Video and other sites, AdBrite is not offering hosting and, instead, lets users link to any FLV file on the Web.

This means that, at the moment, all files played through InVideo are pulling their bandwidth from some other source, be it the advertiser’s server or a completely unrelated party. This also means that it is easier than ever for unscrupulous users to profit from other people’s videos. All they have to do is simply a link to an existing publicly available FLV file, embed the new flash file and then profit from the ad exposures it generates.

This, in turn, has caused a great deal of concern among content produces, and among sites that host FLV files.

Bandwidth, Content Theft and Plagiarism

The concerns most people have with AdBrite fall into one of three categories:

  1. Bandwidth Theft: Since AdBrite doesn’t host FLV files, they have to come from somewhere and many, undoubtedly, will come from sites such as Youtube. Most sites already have terms of use that forbid such linking, though others do not and are set up with such uses in mind. It will be interesting to see if any major players in this market take steps to block direct linking by InVideo.
  2. Content Theft: AdBrite, currently, does not have any software to check for video duplicates to help weed out potentially infringing videos. Since it can pull videos from anywhere on the Web, there is nothing to stop users from just resubmitting what someone else has posted and profiting directly from it.
  3. Plagiarism: A strange feature of InVideo is that it adds a logo to all videos it displays. Though the watermark is just an image placed on top of the video, it can appear at first glance to be a watermark and seems to identify the work as belonging to whoever controls that InVideo account. This could lead to some confusion regarding authorship and make handling content theft more difficult.

All of these concerns are, of course, quite valid. Video content, up until very recently, has largely been immune to content theft and plagiarism simply due to the nature of the medium. Youtube and similar sites have changed that at the same time they’ve revolutionized the Web video industry as a whole.

However, these concerns are also valid, at least to some extent, with regular Adsense. After all, Adsense makes it easy to profit from stealing bandwidth, taking content and plagiarizing others.

The difference, however, is that Adsense itself does not do any of those things. Adsense does not pull content from other sources, put logos on content or stream material. Instead, it is merely put on pages that might. contain infringing works. The thief has to use other tools to infringe copyright, InVideo is, potentially, a tool for infringement in and of itself.

AdBrite’s Side

AdBrite has made it very clear that they do not intend InVideo to be used for illegal purposes. According to their comments, they were caught very off guard by the concerns that were raised though they made no mention of plans to alleviate them other than "support DRM standards as they emerge."

Furthermore, AdBrite makes it very clear in their copyright policy that infringement is not tolerated and they offer a DMCA process for individuals to report abuse of their content via AdBrite members. However, the policy is hidden fairly well, not available on their regular FAQ, and found instead buried in their terms and conditions. Worse still, according to their copyright policy, the notice can not be emailed or even faxed in and, instead must be sent via regular mail. They are the first DMCA recipient I have seen with those policies.

Also, it is important to remember that the service is still in beta and is only available to a very small group of providers. It’s very possible that, before the service is released to a broader audience, that further protective measures will be in place.

But despite these concerns. AdBrite has little to offer other than saying "the controversy is fun, though unexpected and… unwarranted."

Conclusions

Personally, I am very uneasy with AdBrite as a company when it comes to copyright matters. Their overly strict DMCA policies, far worse than even Google, the lengths they went through to hide those policies and their continued prominent support for at least one site with a history of copyright infringement.

Though I have never sent a DMCA notice or any kind of copyright complaint to AdBrite yet, I would be very wary if I ever did

InVideo, built upon those weak copyright policies, seems to be a good idea that is easily exploited. In an attempt to create a cool new advertising platform, they created a one-stop shop for video bandwidth, content and authorship theft.

Personally, I do not think that AdBrite is malicious in their efforts. But I do believe that they need to put more thought and effort into these practices, especially as their network grows. They need to realize that, since they are not a host, the DMCA does not necessarily provide them safe harbor and their liability for infringement by their users is unclear at best.

I hope that they make changes to their service to make it harder for plagiarists and other content thieves to exploit the work of others. InVideo is a very neat idea, but simply allowing users to use any FLV file that is available on the Web is borderline reckless and will not earn them many friends on the video distribution scene.

Personally, I agree with Arrington on this issue, that a partnership with a site like Photobucket seems natural.

In the meantime though, this issue highlights the importance of clearly watermarking and identifying any video that you intend to upload for the general Web. Video cotent has been getting easier to lift every day. Now it is almost literally a one click operation.

Note: A letter sent to AdBrite was not immediately responded to, I will update this story should they respond.

Technorati Tags: Plagiarism, Content Theft, Copyright Infringement, Adsense, Adbrite, Invideo, DMCA, TechCrunch, Advertising

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