Virtual Fingerprinting (Extract)

Extract of an article in Issue 1, April 28, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. A Jerusalem start-up has come up with a technique for tracking unauthorized copying of video images Chloe2865, as she is known by her username on one of the popular web video sites, is a fan of pop singer Rihanna - so much so, that she has uploaded an entire gallery of videos of the Barbados-born singer's greatest hists onto the website, where they can now be viewed freely by anyone connected to the Internet. The videos, however, are the property of a record label that was never consulted about Chloe2865's ostensible generosity and has never been compensated for the use of its copyrighted content. It's a scene that repeats itself around the clock and around the world, as millions of web surfers feel free to upload countless video clips onto web video sites. If an unloaded clip is taken from a home video-cam or represents a personal video blog, there's no problem, of course. But if it's been taken from a film or MTV music video with explicit authorization by the content owner, the upload may constitute copyright theft. And such theft is becoming increasingly common in an age in which web video sites like YouTube are proliferating. In a $1 billion lawsuit filed a year ago against Google, the owner of YouTube, Viacom, the media conglomerate that owns MTV stated that the "brazen disregard of the intellectual-property laws fundamentally threatens not just plaintiffs but the economic underpinnings of one of the most important sectors of the United States economy." The lawsuit is pending, as the two sides continue to argue over discovery rules and prepare their depositions. The content owners claim they are losing potential advertising revenues on their official television channels and websites as users gravitate to view the content at popular web video sites - and that those sites then benefit from the advertising profits instead. In their defence, the owners of web video sites claim that they are simply acting as hosts for content provided by their users - and since they are not benefiting directly by selling content owned by others, they have not violated any laws. Until now, video content owners such as film and television productions studios have lacked effective means to catch most of these copyright infringers; keeping track of the sheer bulk of videos circulating on the web is too overwhelming a task to be accomplished manually. But Jerusalem start-up Vidyatel claims that it has developed a technology that could give film studios and other content owners the tools to start fighting back. The technology, known as "image fingerprinting," uses algorithms that mimic human visual perception, enabling the automated identification of video content over any electronic medium. Vidyatel's technology development is being backed by the Israeli venture capital firm Jerusalem Venture Partners. Along with its subsidiary arm, JVP Studios, the firm has been underwriting a revolution in Jerusalem's high-tech community in the past two years, making so many investments in media, entertainment and game-related start-ups, along with an animation studio it is building, that Israel's capital may be poised to become a leading media and entertainment technology center. "Our clients provide us with the video material they wish to track, and we create a video 'fingerprint' without changing anything in the original video," explains Asher Hershtik, co-founder and chief technology officer of Vidyatel. "Once the fingerprint has been created and added to our database, our computers can automatically monitor any television or Internet channel, spot even a few seconds from the original video, and inform the content owner. Content creators need to regain control over the distribution of their online content by proactively claiming their content, and we enable precisely that." A fingerprint of a video is essentially a highly compressed version of the visual information contained in the full-length video. "It is called a video fingerprint because of the analogy with human fingerprints," Hershtik tells The Report. "If I have a copy of your fingerprint, I cannot draw your features or infer anything else about you - but I can identify you relative to anyone else. In the same way, you won't be able to reconstruct a video from its fingerprint, but you will be able to identify copies of it." Vidyatel can produce a fingerprint that takes up less than a thousandth of the data of the original film. That means it can be stored efficiently in a database, while at the same time it enables the rapid and automated comparison of the content of any other video against the original. Video fingerprinting is a technological advance over previous methods used to track unauthorized copying of video images, which were based either on "hash value" comparison or on "watermarking." The hash value approach reduces the data in a video to a unique string of numbers, enabling different videos to be compared to see if the hash values they produce match - thus indicating one is a reproduction of the other. But this method works only when the copies are exact reproductions; introducing tiny changes to a video copy, or converting from one format to another, can easily render the hash comparisons invalid. It is also ineffective in identifying small clips taken from a larger video. Extract of an article in Issue 1, April 28, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.