Blocking websites could damage industry, says media executive

MBC's head of new media calls for freer access to internet.

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DUBAI // Blocking access to websites that illegally display copyrighted material is the wrong way to address piracy, according to a senior executive of the television network MBC. A week ago, the Government announced it had blocked 10 websites, all based in South Korea, that were broadcasting football matches from June's Euro 2008 tournament illegally. It said it would also order internet service providers to block other websites infringing copyright.

Ammar Bakkar, the head of new media at MBC, the Middle East's largest free-to-air broadcaster, says such moves can damage the growth of local entertainment websites, which is bad for the industry. "When you block the smaller sites, but keep up the big ones such as Facebook and YouTube, you end up with all the same content online," he said. "There will be no locally driven, user-generated material."

Dr Bakkar, whose role is to bring the station's programmes to new platforms, such as the internet and mobile phones, prefers to leave the problem to copyright holders. "Let the websites and content owners deal with each other," he said. "The moment you begin blocking websites, it kills the whole concept of user-generated content." In recent months, MBC has started sending out legal notices and initiating court proceedings against websites that refuse or ignore requests to take down copyrighted TV shows.

Most comply with the orders, and the network is now offering deals to show MBC programmes legally at what Dr Bakkar calls "very reasonable prices". Next month, the company will meet officials from YouTube, the world's largest video-sharing site, to finalise an agreement similar to ones already signed by many Hollywood studios. Under the deal, YouTube will remove all copyrighted MBC material and then launch an MBC-branded YouTube channel displaying high-quality, legal versions of the network's programmes.

"This lets us have control over our content, and people can keep watching their favourite shows through YouTube," said Dr Bakkar. Khadeeja al Mazooqi, general manager of Shoof TV, a website showing video and music clips made by the public, said the copyright issue was one of the first problems they had faced when starting up. Founded by the Dubai-based Arab Media Group (AMG), the site relies entirely on material submitted by its users, some of which is shown on a TV programme on the local Nickelodeon channel, which is also operated by AMG.

"When you are asking people to upload videos, you have hundreds and hundreds of clips, so you can't check out every single one," she said. "You can never be 100 per cent certain about the origin of a clip." Shoof TV requires its users to guarantee that they own the rights to any clip they upload. So far, it has received no complaints, but Ms Mazooqi said any content claimed by a third party would be removed.

"Ideally, this should all be done between content producers and the websites, but we are not in an ideal world," she added. "I'm sure when the Government gets involved like they did, there have already been serious complaints."