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Does Digital Fingerprinting Work?: An Investigative Report

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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.


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,, 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.


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 (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.

36 Responses to “Does Digital Fingerprinting Work?: An Investigative Report”

  1. scooby

    There must be a silent agreement with Audible Magic and all those companies, where they know it doesn’t work yet but it’ll get worked out while it’s implemented. The development is still being done and it’ll get worked out on-site.

    They would’ve done their own testing like this, so it’s not like it’s a big suprise to all concerned. Maybe Google not going with the hype is the only company indicating the truth; i.e., it ain’t working, yet.

  2. Whammo

    Why don’t they just get their own channels on YouTube and the like? All this is going to accomplish is videos that are flipped, squeezed, color altered to get around the filters.

  3. Liz,

    Ok then Mashable is getting their info wrong..
    “Other companies using Audible Magic include YouTube, Daily Motion, EyeSpot and Grouper”

    I think a great test would be for someone to choose a
    couple of copyright files such as a music video and another copyright clip type and upload to ALL services.Then do a side by side test.

    That would be really interesting!

  4. Liz Gannes

    bdc, regardless of whether that is actually deployed yet (which I don’t think it is), we downloaded the original video from YouTube.

  5. Can there ever be a technological solution to this problem? My unsolicited advice to Comedy Central: make all the clips available in higher quality, with better metadata, better descriptions, and optimized for search engines (so that it comes up in Google before the YouTube results) — in as many outlets as possible, as soon as possible (like, as soon as it airs) with non-intrusive, relevant sponsorships along for the ride. It’ll take a while to get that in place, but in the long term, you’ll kill the destinations with lesser copies available everywhere else. We /want/ to go to the source — you just don’t make it possible. Once you do, Daily Show fans like me will love you and the show even more.

  6. Great post guys. Fingerprinting field is still problematic. The key here is not only the technology, but also relations with content owners that will supply the sample for the fingerprint itself.

  7. knowledable user

    Ohm, while you’re right they should be able to add the rejected video to their database to prevent repeated upload the reason they probably don’t is because they don’t own the rights to the video and the fingerprint is a derivative work of the original movie/tv show. Ironic, huh?