Media & Entertainment Industry Trends, Technology and Research

#3 Concept Series : What is Digital Fingerprinting

Posted In Media Concepts - By Nitin Narang on Tuesday, June 4th, 2013 With No Comments »

Digital Fingerprinting is a technology which enables content owners  exercise greater control on their copyrighted content by effective identification, tracking and monitoring across distribution channels (broadcast, radio, live, web etc..) while opening additional monetization avenue by exploiting extended value of digital assets.


What is Digital Fingerprinting

Digital Fingerprints are compact digital impressions extracted from the original content (audio or video) which represent contents’ characteristics and have enough details to identify a content variant upon comparison. Fingerprinting algorithm utilize variety of content properties like frame snippets,  motion and music changes, camera cuts, brightness level, object movements etc. to represented fingerprints which are stored as asset references (along with content metadata) in database repository. They can identify whenever a variant of audio/video content coming from different sources (Radio, Broadcast, streaming, web download, synchronized etc.) is compared even in cases of content modification (e.g compression, aspect ratio changes, re-sampling, change in color, dimensions, format, bitrates, equalization) or  content degradation (e.g distortion due to conversion, loss in quality, blurring, cropping, addition of background noise etc.). The fingerprint algorithm manages a balance between ideal amount of data capture to enable granular comparison (frame level) across the length of content while keeping fingerprints lightweight for manageable access, indexing, search, and storage.  There are several digital fingerprinting products in the market today offered by companies like Audible Magic, iPharro etc.

Digital Fingerprinting Workflow

Fingerprint generation and identification forms an integral part of the content distributor’s media workflow with ability to identify, track, monitor and monetize their content. It empowers publishers with technology to prevent copyright infringement, provides means to extend due financial benefits to rightful content owners and obviate themselves from legal liabilities arising due to unlicensed spread of copyrighted material (DMCA rules). A typical Digital Fingerprinting process involves content owners/ studios registering their content for fingerprinting and creating reference digital representation of their content which is used for future comparisons. Key steps include

  1. Extracting unique characteristics of digital content – fingerprints and submission to Rights registry along with metadata
  2. Identifying audio/video content by comparing against fingerprints in the database to check for infringement
  3. Take appropriate action based on comparison result under agreed business rules (block, delete, authorize)

Why Digital Fingerprinting  is important

While rapid growth in Internet, digitization and compression have reduced the cost and time for content production, processing, storage and distribution it has also introduced far greater challenges in monitoring and controlling  media piracy.  Copyright Infringement can manifest in multiple ways e.g. ripping content from the CD/DVD, capturing content from Television, distributing digital copies over social networking and P2P networks, video recording from Theatres, content copying and duplicating etc.

Digital Fingerprinting enables publishers (and  performing rights societies) to reap benefits by expanding and extending the value of their content through newer monetization avenues like content publication on paid video portals, social networks sites generating advertising revenues, performance and playback of content across radio, television and promotional events, use of content in advertisements, Television and radio programs and marketing activities among others. Digital Fingerprinting has wide areas of application in the media ecosystem from content monitoring to monetization including

Digital Fingerprinting Applications

Digital Fingerprinting Applications

  • Content identification for contextual and targeted advertising
  • Mechanism for content delivery verification
  • Audience measurement
  • Content filtering and  Broadcasting monitoring
  • Contractual compliance
  • ACR (Automated content recognition) enabling enhanced user experience and greater engagement through second screen applications
  • Content publishing sites (UGC, content portals, social networking etc.) to control copyright infringement and revenue from advertising
  • Version control and content duplication
  • Content searching using fingerprint fragments…….

YouTube and Digital Fingerprinting

Youtube is the largest online video aggregator which receives approx. 48 hrs of content every min, 24×7 round the year and preventing copyright infringement is paramount for them. Youtube introduced content management and identification based on Digital fingerprinting technology called “Content ID”   in 2007 and is used today by thousands of media companies to register their content and prevent illegal uploads.  YouTube follows the copyright policy which empowers original content owners to either remove all previously uploaded copyrighted work,  prevent newly uploaded pirated content or authorize pirated content while retaining benefits from advertising, follower tracking  and content promotion. Youtube’s adherence to DMCA by taking down infringing content when it received notice was the major reason in the legal win against Viacom in copyright infringement case.

Digital Fingerprinting is not Foolproof

No technology is ever foolproof and digital fingerprinting is no exception. As fingerprinting algorithms become more mature to quickly detect copyright infringement, content pirates work overtime to find techniques to evade detection (modifying sections of content, mixing content etc). Similarly there have been instances where content gets incorrectly blocked for infringement  (popular case of Democrats’ Convention Video) or content used for education and training getting marked for infringement.

Like any technology Digital Fingerprinting is evolving and improving, although it may not prevent piracy it acts as a deterrent for pirates and technology enabler for publishers to monitor authenticity and reduce instances for copyright violation.

About - Digital Media Technology Consultant. I have passion for TV technology, digital convergence and changing face of Media and Entertainment industry.