ALM Properties, Inc.
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Protecting Those Magic Moments
Among the many moments filmed at the Olympic Games in London, consider just a few: German diver Stephan Feck lands in the water flat on his back. Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt beats Team USA (and everyone else) in the men's 4x100 relay. And, after winning the gold in women's tennis, Serena Williams busts out her dance moves right on the court.
You don't have to search out a pirated clip to see them. They're all on NBCOlympics.comright where Rick Cotton, general counsel of NBCUniversal Inc., wanted them. Beginning with the Beijing Games in 2008, Cotton and his crew have worked to thwart piracy of Olympics coverage by using twin strategies. NBC makes its high-quality footage available to consumers when they want it, how they want it. And the network tries to ensure that unauthorized content is low-quality and hard to find. Following the London Games, Cotton spoke to reporter Catherine Dunn about what it takes to protect those prized moments.
Corporate Counsel: What were your lawyers keeping an eye on during the Games?
Rick Cotton: It was really the technology effort to fingerprint and feed into the video sharing sites, to crawl the Internet, identify unauthorized streams, and take them down as rapidly as possible. And the takedown obviously is a legal operation, and legal notices are being sent, again in cooperation with and in support of the International Olympic Committee.
CC : About how many of your lawyers were involved in London, and how did they partner with the IOC?
RC: Our team is made up of technologists, business people, and government affairs representatives, as well as lawyers. In all, we had approximately a dozen or so focused on NBCUniversal's digital theft and counterfeiting team at the London Olympics.
All of our teams worked closely with the IOC around the clock to stay on top of online activities and trends. The IOC sent notices to hosting sites, and most hosting sites responded to those notices very quickly. Both NBC and the IOC worked together to do manual content reviews, which resulted in additional notices and takedowns.
CC: Can you give us any examples of what kinds of things were pirated during the Beijing Games?
RC: Most of the content consisted of clips that were camcorded from television sets. They were poor quality and, at the time, we guesstimated that we successfully contained online viewing of unauthorized content in Beijing to 12 percent.
CC: How much content was pirated during the London Games?
RC: The amount of illegitimate material available was minimal, with illegitimate online views accounting for less than 2 percent of total online viewing of Olympics video.
Our two-pronged approach worked well: First, make large amounts of content available, live, across as many platforms as possible, combined with a highly produced and edited tape-delay prime-time summary of each day. And second, make pirated video inconvenient to access and of unreliable quality. As a result, most people opted for the high-quality, reliable, easy-to-access legitimate alternative.
CC: Can you give us specific examples of some of the events and clips that you know were pirated in London?
RC: The types of unauthorized clips available were typically not the full athletic event, although there were some efforts at streaming event coverage, mostly from other countries. There were short clips of a South Korean weight lifter dislocating his elbow during one of the weight-lifting competitions. The clips that got through the various filters and automated takedowns tended to be short clips of poor quality. In general, filtering was effective, keeping the lion's share of illegitimate material from ever being uploaded.
CC: How does your team watch social media for piracy?
RC: We watch the social media interfaces to be sure that they don't become engines of unauthorized access. But I have to tell you that we did not see a significant amount of access to unauthorized content through Twitter or through the other social media sites. Many of the streams that may have been referenced, in particular Twitter exchanges, were actually dead and down and nonfunctional by the time they were referenced.