Welcome to the new world, Neo… but you’re not going to like it

I just read a newsflash about an automated system shutting down a video stream because the video stream contained copyright protected material.

Sounds OK to you too? To me it does, until you dig into the details:

On September 2, the Hugo Awards ceremony took place, and was broadcasted live over the internet. Just in case you don’t know the Hugo Award, it is huge (pun intended). It’s a yearly award given to the greatest achievements in Science Fiction. I’ve put a link to Wikipedia in for anyone who wants more details.

So there is this huge ceremony, and halfway through awarding Neil Gaiman the Hugo for a Doctor Who episode he wrote, the video stream of the ceremony that thousands of people were watching all over the world gets cut off by the stream provider, UStream. Turns out that UStream is / was using a third party service to detect copyright violations in streams, and this third party flagged this Doctor Who episode, which was of course running in the background, as copyrighted. Which of course it was, but the decision to show it there had been made with the agreement of the copyright holder, so it should have been OK.

Later, UStream released a PR blurb explaining what happened, and also said that Ustream couldn’t restart its own live feed once Vobile had shut it down. (Vobile is the third party service; UStream for now has suspended using them after this incident).

So here’s where the scary part begins. Aparently, there are already cases where machines have more control over things than the people who originally employed the machines. Skynet, anyone? The Matrix, maybe?

What would it take to make those “machines” inter-operate, and suddenly decide that human postings on the net contain statistically way too many copyright violations to be allowed at all?

What is there to determine whether any given piece of information that you read was actually written a human being? How do you know that it is, in fact, true?

In seemingly unrelated news, a German court has decided that even the 160 characters of a twitter “tweet” can be enough to violate someone’s copyright. And even retweeting an offending tweet can make you a copyright violator. How many ways are there to tweet “I love you” at your girlfriend that have not been used already in romance novels?

Welcome to the new world – but I know you’re not going to like it.

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