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Recently, I received a notice from my Internet provider that someone in my household had downloaded a movie that was copyrighted. It was a pretty long and detailed message full of technical information that immediately indicated to me that it was automatically created. Then, I realized that, of course, this could easily be done.


Just as hackers create malicious small software programs that can sit somewhere and watch for particular information, such as passwords, bots, as they are called, could do the same to watch for copyright infringement. This is exactly what happens.

A bot, is like a robot, however it is really software; a small program that does a very small task like watch for certain information. When it finds something, it forwards it to whoever is waiting for the information. In the case of a hacker, it might be some of your personal information. Thus, it seems simple that bots could be programmed to watch for copyright infringement. Simple, right? Not really.

A quick search on the Internet reveals that these bots are getting it wrong quite often. It appears that verifying the use of copyrighted material is not as easy as it might seem. Bots have been known to shut down video feeds on YouTube and Ustream—even a speech by First Lady Michelle Obama.

Here is one of the problems. Content is uploaded to the Internet. That content might contain something that was taken from some other content. If this is written, providing the source is usually good enough, unless a large portion is being used, then it is best to get permission.

What is happening now is that bots are recognizing snippets of music, for example, in a video and flagging it as copyright infringement—even though the snippet is not really part of the video, or intentionally added. It might just be a ringtone on a phone in the background. Usually, the result is a message that goes out to make sure the material is taken down.

The bot can cause huge problems when the material it finds is being streamed live, as in the case with Michelle Obama and with the Hugo Awards. In these cases, the stream was immediately blocked creating quite a hoopla of complaints.

Copyright issues in this digital age have been a huge problem. Laws have lagged behind technology leaving copyright owners unable to control their material. Digital files are easily copied and shared. For years, services have come and gone that facilitated the sharing of digital copyrighted content. Napster was one that created a stir over music sharing. Apple iTunes helped to bring the legitimate sale and distribution of music and later, other content.

Copyright owners have had to endure years of loss and it seems that efforts are being made to introduce other forms of control. Laws and governments may side more with the content owners, so we might have to expect more interruptions until the bots or other technologies improve.