Sony to launch film clips download service

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Sony Pictures Entertainment will Thursday attempt to bridge the gap between user-generated web video and copyright-protected content when it launches a film clip download service on its Grouper platform.

The Sony subsidiary is launching “Screen Bites” on Grouper, a user generated video site similar to YouTube that it bought this summer for $65m.

Like other sites that specialise in user-generated content, Grouper has run into legal difficulties because its users have posted and published content protected by copyright. Universal Music recently began legal proceedings against the site for allowing users to post music videos of its artists.

However, under the new film clip service, Grouper users will be able to take clips from Sony’s film library and “embed” them in blogs and social networking sites such as MySpace.

The group is making clips available from several blockbuster films in its library, including Taxi Driver, On the Waterfront and Jerry Maguire. Users of the service will be able to download and use Cuba Gooding Jr’s “Show me the money!” scene from Jerry Maguire and Robert De Niro’s “You talkin’ to me?” Taxi Driver performance.

It is expected that more films will be eventually added to the service, which also includes US TV series such as Diff’rent Strokes, Fantasy Island and The Three Stooges.

There will be no charge for the service although Sony is hoping users will be compelled to buy the full-length versions of the films and television programmes, either by downloading them or buying them on DVD.

“A lot of short form content is produced without the type of talent that the studios can bring to bear,” said Sean Carey, executive vice-president of SPE’s digital services and distribution.

He denied that Sony was effectively giving away its content. “It’s really a marketing vehicle for sales of actual product.” The clips, he said, “will help us sell more DVDs and digital downloads…in a viral fashion.”

He added the company “did not have any issue” with the clips appearing on other video websites such as YouTube. “The premise here is to get as many eyeballs as we can so we can drive more sales of our product.”

Use of copyright-protected material on video websites has become a thorny issue. Google, which recently acquired YouTube for $1.65bn, has met the heads of several media conglomerates, including Viacom, Time Warner and News Corp, to head off potential law suits. Google offered the companies tens of millions of dollars for the right to broadcast the content legally on YouTube.

YouTube, which broadcasts 100m videos a day, is the web’s most popular video site.

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