Copyright laws can't cope with the modern landscape, that much isn't up for debate. What to do to fix that is the subject of a heated debate.
But what's clear is that the laws and the current tools don't work, not only in that they don't stop infringement, they don't even do what they're supposed to and many times ruin the fun or the businesses of innocent people.
The latest such example is the Huge Awards, a very well-known sci fi award show, which got pulled of the "air" when an automated content detection system targeted the legal and official stream as a copyright infringing one, just as well-known author Neil Gaiman was giving his acceptance speech of an episode of Doctor Who.
The stream was taken offline and the ironic part was that Ustream wasn't even able to put it back up even if it wanted to, at least according to the company's late response to the issue.
During the award show, focusing on mostly written science fiction which means movie and TV scripts as well, some clips of the episodes that were up for an award were presented, as you'd expect in any award show.
The organizers had permission to show those clips and even to broadcast them, it was all legit.
Of course, even if they hadn't gotten permission, the fair use case is open and shut, there's no discussion. But systems created to detect infringing content, robots if we're keeping with the sci fi theme, don't really know or care about authorized copies let alone fair use.
"This occurred because our 3rd party automated infringement system, Vobile, detected content in the stream that it deemed to be copyrighted," Ustream CEO Brad Hunstable, wrote in an explanation and apology.
"Vobile is a system that rights holders upload their content for review on many video sites around the web. The video clips shown prior to Neil’s speech automatically triggered the 3rd party system at the behest of the copyright holder," he said
"I have suspended use of this third-party system until we are able to recalibrate the settings so that we can better balance the needs of broadcasters, viewers, and copyright holders," he vowed.
Of course, there's no easy solution to this. YouTube's ContentID, which works in the same way, is just as error prone and constantly causes problems for legitimate users.
Still, at least Ustream is promising to put the service first and fighting copyright infringement second, which is rare to hear these days. Whether it will be able to pull it off is another matter.
"While we are committed to protecting copyright, we absolutely must ensure our amazing and democratizing platform allows legal broadcasters to Ustream their events and shows. This is our first and foremost obligation to our users and community," he said.