Does Digital Fingerprinting Work?: An Investigative Report

Audio and visual fingerprinting of copyrighted video is seen as the best way to combat infringement, but in NewTeeVee’s testing this week across multiple sites, it did not work. We were surprised to be able to upload multiple times the exact same copyrighted file, even after we explicitly told the hosting site and the fingerprinting provider about it and they took it down.

What follows is a description of our procedure, accompanied by the vehement disclaimer that we were doing this only for educational purposes.

Microsoft recently took its Soapbox user-contributed video site out of the public eye until it could implement filtering technology from Audible Magic. Last Friday, it relaunched, supposedly armed and ready to fend off copyrighted content. So we asked our intrepid reporter Craig Rubens to test how the system worked by uploading a Daily Show clip.

Surprise, surprise, the clip went up like a charm (screenshot). We called Microsoft to ask what was going on. You should talk to Audible Magic, they said; our system is only as good as their index. We called Audible Magic, who essentially blamed Microsoft, for only implementing the audio version of its software. The reps then set off to nail down statements from their companies, a process that took most of the week.

Only sometime last night did the clip finally get taken off Soapbox, replaced with a copyright violation notice. To see if the system had been corrected we uploaded it again today, and again it appeared about 40 minutes later. At this point, if all went as it was supposed to, the video should have been automatically added to the index of banned clips, and then rejected when we uploaded a duplicate. But again, we had no problem.

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Concerns about whether digital fingerprinting is ready for action have persisted, and market leader YouTube has hesitated to deploy its “Claim Your Content” system while it is being perfected. However, confidence in fingerprinting has moved past the optimism stage. “This technology works,” says MPAA Vice-President Dean Garfield, as reported by BusinessWeek.

Audible Magic has bagged most every high profile deal in video filtering: MySpace, Dailymotion, Break.com, and GoFish/Bolt.

The Audible Magic representative insinuated the company’s technology was deployed in fuller form on MySpace — which recently launched its “Take Down Stay Down” and filtering system using AM’s system — so we also tried uploading the clip there. Interestingly, that also posed no problem. See it in action here.

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Below is Craig’s description of the procedure he used to upload his clip to Soapbox. He says after about 50 minutes of “processing” the video went live and was playable. The MySpace experiment was even quicker, taking about five minutes.

  1. Search for “Daily Show” on YouTube
  2. Select first clip of actual Daily Show with Jon Stewart content and download it via KeepVid.com (selected video)
  3. Convert the video to a Soapbox approved format (shockingly, Microsoft doesn’t like .flv)
  4. Upload Daily Show clip to Soapbox
  5. Allow time for Soapbox to process, convert, and (supposedly) scan for copyrighted material.

Here are the official statements Microsoft and Audible Magic sent yesterday after days of deliberation and phone calls about the issue.

“We are continuing to work with Audible Magic to fine tune our implementation of their proactive automatic filtering services to best meet the needs of our content partners. The fact that a clip of any unauthorized copyright material slipped through is unfortunate, but that’s why we also provide rich notice and takedown tools to content owners to automate and expedite the process of identifying and removing unauthorized content. We are committed to working in partnership with the industry to continue to evolve our technologies and solutions for customers and partners.” — Rob Bennett, general manager for Entertainment and Video Services at MSN

“Audible Magic’s technology has the ability to identify content such as ‘The Daily Show’ clip in question. We are working closely with Microsoft to customize our solution in order to meet the business needs of their Soapbox service.” — Vance Ikezoye, founder and CEO of Audible Magic

Though all these systems, as advertised, depend largely on identifying content once in order to block it future times, we made no bones about identifying our uploads as Daily Show clips. We also had no problem uploading the exact same file after we had informed the proper people about it and they had taken it down.

Of all the videos on the web, Comedy Central clips are a huge bone of contention, figuring into Viacom’s pending $1 billion-plus lawsuit against YouTube and its parent Google. Funnily enough, the original Daily Show video is still live on YouTube.

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