Leading American media corporations have published plans that would impose filtering of user-generated content to restrict the publication of copyright material. They notably exclude Google, the owner of YouTube, which is evaluating similar technology. The proposed measures go beyond the existing provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act but fail to address adequately the issues around fair use.

The initiative is backed by major media corporations such as Disney, CBS, NBC, Fox and Viacom as well as Microsoft and MySpace. They aim to implement the principles by the end of the year.

They say the principles will serve as a comprehensive set of guidelines to help user-generated content services and content creators “work together towards their collective goal of bringing more content to consumers through legitimate channels”.

The principles include implementing filtering to eliminate infringing material, including blocking uploads before they are made available to the public, in a manner that they say effectively balances legitimate interests, including fair use.

The companies note that while the ease of uploading video material on the web has led to the creation of millions of original works, it has also resulted in the proliferation of material that infringes copyright.

They have got together to produce a web site containing a manifesto to “encourage creativity” and “respect intellectual property”. This includes mandating a mechanism by which a copyright owner may provide reference data to allow the site owner to use identification technology to match and block infringing uploads.

It includes provision to allow a copyright owner to provide a ‘white list’ authorising specific users to upload material. Presumably this would include their marketing and public relations departments.

The group states that if a service adheres to all their principles in good faith, the copyright owner should not assert a claim of copyright infringement with respect to infringing material that remains on the service. This effectively offers a moratorium on litigation in return for implementing the policies.

Bob Iger, the president and chief executive of The Walt Disney Company was among the executives to welcome the initiative. “These principles offer a road map for unlocking the enormous potential of online video and user-generated content,” he said. “Cooperation among us, aided by emerging technologies, can clear the way for further growth in the availability of online video in ways that will be good for consumers, good for copyright owners and good for uploading services.”

Steve Ballmer, the chief executive of Microsoft described it as “an important step forward in establishing the internet as a great platform for video content — a platform that allows services to innovate and preserves incentives for all creators, big and small, by respecting copyright.”

Leslie Moonves, the head of CBS, said the principles “will help balance the rights and responsibilities of both content owners and sites accepting user generated content.”

Jeff Zucker, his counterpart at NBC, said the announcement “marks a significant step in transforming the internet from a wild west to a popular medium that respects the rule of law”.

Peter Chernin of Fox said: “In the end, technical innovation has always proved to be a positive driver in shaping our businesses and spurring greater and more robust distribution models. The principles unveiled today underscore that conviction by enabling a path that will reward content owners, distributors, and most importantly, consumers.”

Philippe Dauman of Viacom described it as “a framework for intellectual property to live in harmony with technical advances.” Viacom is currently involved in a billion dollar copyright infringement claim against YouTube, now owned by Google.

The search company has announced its own technology for identifying copyright works based on a digital ‘fingerprint’. Google, which revealed record results for the last quarter, with gross revenues up 57% on the same period the previous year, will come under pressure to address the principles outlined by the major studios.

It is yet to be seen whether the “state of the art filtering technology” advocated by the major media companies can adequately eliminate infringing material and block uploads before they are published, given possible legitimate applications, including fair use, criticism, parody and pastiche.

Of course, if it became possible to block the monocultural products of major media corporations, it might actually encourage the creation and distribution of genuine user-generated material. This may represent more of a threat to the established producers and distributors than the exploitation of their material on popular web sites which arguably has significant promotional value.