Microsoft has decided to terminate MSN Soapbox, their troubled entry in the personal video Web site space:
"We have decided to shut down the Soapbox feature," said Microsoft Vice President and MSN leader Erik Jorgensen in an e-mail. "Beginning today, July 21, we will be notifying both our customers and our internal and external partners that on July 29th, people will no longer be able to upload videos to Soapbox and on August 31st, the service will no longer be available."
Microsoft will continue to support MSN Video, which has 88 million unique users each month and delivers 480 million video streams each month, he said. Soapbox was responsible for less than 5 percent of MSN Video’s streams.
The hook for Soapbox was the social networking features, but apparently they were insufficient to lure the folks who love to video their personal whines for the delectation of others away from Google’s YouTube. Of course, it isn’t clear there is really a business in any of these video Web sites since YouTube is still finding it hard to make money with their overwhelming market share and many videos much more amenable to advertising than personal ramblings.
I see that I haven’t spared any pixels for MSN Soapbox, Microsoft’s YouTube clone, since it shut down temporarily in March due to the presence of the same copyright infringement problems that had Microsoft tut-tutting about YouTube. Apparently, Soapbox relaunched in April to little fanfare and ambled along in closed beta as before.
On the heels of yesterday’s announcement that Microsoft was joining the Anti-YouTube Network which is supposed to be squeaky clean with regard to the absence of pirated content, Microsoft has temporarily closed MSN Soapbox as it works on its own copyright protection mechanisms:
Microsoft is closing its video-sharing site, Soapbox, to new users for up to two months so it can create better safeguards against pirated content.
The software giant, which agreed earlier Thursday to distribute movies and TV shows for big media companies, has seen Soapbox fill up with unauthorized clips since a test version of the site launched last month.
No new subscribers will be accepted, but anyone who has already signed up for Soapbox can continue to access the site, said Adam Sohn, a director in Microsoft’s online-services group.
Microsoft stood to be embarrassed by the existence of pirated work on Soapbox. There was a real possibility that the company could have found itself distributing video from News Corp. and NBC Universal, at the same time another one of its units was hosting material stolen from those same companies.
As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, you didn’t have to look hard to find plenty of that nasty pirated video on Soapbox. It’ll be interesting to see what they come up with, since if this were a simple problem, everyone would have fixed it already.
Update: per the article, Microsoft will be using some digital fingerprinting technologies licensed from Audible Magic which is a leader in the field.
It’s one of those inexplicable yet delicious occurrences that set the digerati buzzing (cf. Techmeme, Megite). Microsoft lawyer Thomas Rubin, apparently having nothing better to do, decided to publicly slap Google over Google Book Search while simultaneously touting Microsoft’s competitive endeavor, Windows Live Search Books.
Background: Both Google and Microsoft are scanning and indexing printed books for the Web. Both include out of copyright works and both also include copyrighted works where they have reached agreement with the publishers and either now share ad revenue with the publisher or provide purchase links (Google) or plan to in the future (Microsoft). Google, however, also provides what they feel to be “fair use” excerpts of copyrighted works even if they have not reached an agreement with the copyright holder. This has given rise to lawsuits from aggrieved publishers which are still in the courts.
Microsoft is taking aim at Google Inc.’s rival book-scanning project, saying the search company “systematically violates copyright.”
In prepared remarks he is scheduled to deliver Tuesday to a publishing industry group, a Microsoft Corp. lawyer also said Google is cutting into the profits of authors and publishers.
“Companies that create no content of their own, and make money solely on the backs of other people’s content, are raking in billions through advertising revenue,” wrote Thomas C. Rubin, an associate general counsel at Microsoft, in the speech he planned to give at the annual meeting of the Association of American Publishers in New York.
Sounds like a description that could be applied to all Web search providers, or at least the successful ones. As Matthew Ingram notes, “This is almost a word-for-word transcription of the argument that gets trotted out by everyone from the World Newspaper Association to the Belgian agency Copiepresse…” What can Mr. Rubin be thinking?
“But Google’s track record of protecting copyrights in other parts of its business is weak at best,” wrote Rubin. “Anyone who visits YouTube, which Google purchased last year, will immediately recognize that it follows a similar cavalier approach to copyright.”
I guess we now know what really rankles, although Mr. Rubin apparently doesn’t spend much time at MSN Soapbox which has a similar problem.
The full text of Rubin’s remarks yields more of the same whining boosterism for Microsoft as the protector of copyright holders, but the real question is what purpose is served by this foolishness? Microsoft’s Don Dodge asks the same question on his personal blog and concludes it is all a lame attempt at generating good public relations. That’s about as favorable an interpretation as I can put on it too.