Social media company is facing imperfect options for fighting bootleg streams of live events.
If there was any doubt before, this past weekend crystallized the fact that Twitter has a big problem on its hands in the form of piracy. Or, at the very least, it proved that the company really didn’t think through the recent launch of Periscope, its live video broadcasting app.
Periscope, which lets anyone with a phone shoot and broadcast live events as they happen, is bound to be useful in documenting bona fide news events – say, government protests or police misbehaviour – but so far it’s gained more notoriety by allowing people to re-broadcast entertainment events.
A few weeks ago, it was HBO’s Game of Thrones debut, this weekend it was HBO and Showtime’s pay-per-view boxing match between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. Some people who were viewing the event legitimately simply fired up Periscope and filmed their TV screens, retransmitting it to the world on Twitter.
The video quality of these streams isn’t great, but it’s good enough for many viewers – especially because it lets them watch the events for free.
Despite complaints from HBO, Twitter chief executive Dick Costolo strangely bragged about this:
And the winner is… @periscopeco
— dick costolo (@dickc) May 3, 2015
The problem for Twitter is that the company has partnerships with various companies involved in TV broadcasting. From CBS to Bell Canada, none of them are likely to be fans of Periscope. Despite his cheerleading of the app, pressure is going to build on Costolo to stop Periscope piracy.
Rebroadcasting copyrighted works is against Periscope’s terms of service, but the actions Twitter can currently take against violators aren’t likely to scare anyone off. As Variety notes, takedown notices are simply too slow. By the time a copyright holder issues one to Twitter and the company takes action, it’s probably too late.
Twitter will either have to proactively monitor the streams of its users or enforce the rules retroactively. The company could implement a system that scans and bans Periscope streams in real time, similar to what YouTube does, but that’s a muddy solution that will inevitably catch innocent users in its web by mistake.
YouTube has an appeals process wherein flagged videos can be reinstated, but the issue could be more sensitive with Periscope given its timely nature. Twitter would likely face significant heat were it to accidentally ban a stream of a political protest, for example.
Alternatively, the company could terminate the account of anyone found to have violated copyright, although this isn’t a perfect solution either since all that’s needed to start a new Twitter account is an email address.
For such terminations to carry any weight, the company would have to insist on users using their real names – and that turned out to be a disastrous effort for Facebook.
Neither option looks good at this point so it’ll be interesting to see how Twitter deals with the issue. Either way, it’s clear that Periscope is among the new modern wave of technology products that are launched with the notion that getting forgiveness after the fact is better than seeking permission before.