Philips The Latest To Try A Magic Bullet Solution To Unauthorized Copying

from the good-luck-with-that-plan dept

It’s been two-and-a-half years since the entertainment industry proudly explained how a product called Audible Magic was going to be their magic bullet against all that unauthorized file sharing out there. The technology supposedly used a fingerprinting technique that would identify files of copyrighted materials as they went over the network and stop them. That, of course, was the theory. In practice, the technology wasn’t particularly useful, and many of those who tested it out ended up dropping it (and there have even been questions about whether or not the technology constituted an illegal wiretap). Earlier this year, the MPAA excitedly explained how a new fingerprinting technology would stop unauthorized videos from showing up on places like YouTube — and that hasn’t exactly worked. So, forgive us for being a bit skeptical when we hear that Philips is now coming out with its own magic bullet fingerprinting technology that’s supposed to be able to match and stop unauthorized audio and video from traversing the network. Until it succeeds in real-world conditions, it just seems difficult to believe it will be very effective. It may catch a few things, but people will quickly figure out ways around it, making the whole thing an expensive waste of time (and publicity effort).

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Comments on “Philips The Latest To Try A Magic Bullet Solution To Unauthorized Copying”

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misanthropic humanist says:

This is not a copy protection method, which is of course impossible.
It is a filtering system, by prior agreement which fingerprints files.

In a way this is no different from virus scanning. The filtering agencies that hold the fingerprint hashes work like the anti-virus companies, holding an authoratative list. Content originators will then probably pay to have their material fingerprinted and the hosting sites will presumably also pay for access to the database, thus the cow is milked on all teats.

“The service can spot a match even if the video file is degraded, altered or amounts to a small slice of the original video, according to Philips Content Identification, a unit of the Netherlands’ Philips Electronics NV.”

This is not only possible but quite a mature technique with good accuracy. I speak from the experience of writing fuzzy pattern matchers almost 15 years ago and the reults were impressive even then – if a little slow. By picking enough markers which are independent of absolute time, colour, frame orientation, pixel positions etc it is possible to do fuzzy matching on a video file such that its fingerprint is flagged even if it has been edited or processed. Of course there is a balance between processing time, accuracy so on. Somewhere is a happy medium that means large numbers of big files can be quickly scanned, but to evade the fingerprint system one would have to degrade the video so much as for it to be:

i) unencrypted but unwatchable
ii) effectively encrypted

So, unless by agreement the users of the site exchange public key stubs and agree a priori to encrypt there’s no way around this system. In this case the host site will probably elect to delete all video that is not in plain format, just in case.

What action to take once the file is identified is entirely the province of the host or node attempting to filter the content. In a way it’s no different that having humans sift the material and remove material on a list that says which owners are happy to have it published or not, it’s just a much faster automated version.

Mike says: “Until it succeeds in real-world conditions, it just seems difficult to believe it will be very effective. It may catch a few things, but people will quickly figure out ways around it..”

I believe this one can be deadly effective. Philips have a reputation for first class research and technology products that work and probably have a very well tested system here. There is no trivial circumvention if you want to post files that everybody can view (in plaintext) – which is the entire point of sites like YouTube.

Further it creates a vortex into which all players are quickly sucked. It only takes a few major lawsuits to make rolling out this system look very attractive to a host, although it places the onus to police content on the host which is legally dubious. The copyright holders are equally drageed in, since they cannot legitimately complain if a site running the system does not have their fingerprint hashes because they did not supply them.

The possible pitfall lies in the balance between computation time and false positives. While the sample set is small (less than a million files) the chances of collision are negligable, but, in order to trade off reasonable computation time against accuracy the system will eventually run out of hashing space. The exact balance *must* be correct from day 0, when you start fingerprinting the very first file, because you can not go back at a later date and revise all the hashes in the system.

What does this mean for freedom? For ordinary people?

Shhhh. Keep this quiet. In my opinion it’s the sword on which the rotten media bastards are about to impale thier own belly. For a number of subtle reasons it’s exactly what we’ve all been waiting for and if it works it could change the landscape of the media forever and usher in the real beginning of an enourmous explosion of free, open content.

Andy says:

Re: Phillips the Latest to Try Magic Bullet

Some commenters have made some great comments, but I think still there is more to consider. Although fuzzy matching technology is very similar to virus scanning, it can easily be overcome. Digital content is very easily ripped streaming and analog signal and can be converted into a variety of different formats. The formatting of the video (mpg2-4, vob, avi, wmv etc) will change the coding of the file, thus will also change the indentification markers. Thus, one could just convert the file to a format not listed in the fingerprint database. Assuming that the fingerprint database has source prints for all formats, then there is likely to be a larger margin of false positive identifications. Still this can be overcome by storing and playing the file on a partition not connected to the internet; and using media players that don’t check for license keys. Whenever there is a greedy corporation trying to milk its consumers, there is always a group of people that will find a way around it; much similar to how corporations use congress to create riders in congressional bills to benefit themselves, at the expense of other corporations and the public. In the spirit of the internet being the great equalizer among governments, corporations, and individuals, there is always a way around a technology.

The infamous Joe says:

Dead cats seeking rebirth.

Unless I’ve misunderstood all the technical mumbo-jumbo, this would attempt to prevent posting on site like Youtube..

..but, uhh.. a friend of mine has a program that plays protected media (which requires a license) and “records” it.. so when you’re done, you have the media x 2… one protected and one unprotected–which it seems to do by recording the actual sound and video on the computer (As if I just got my trusty camcorder out and taped it off my monitor, only equal (or nearly equal) quality.

I don’t see how this new magic bullet would stop this old software.

I request education.

Anonymous Coward says:

well, i think the fingerprinting is where they take samples of any videos submitted, and compare them to the databank of pre-existing “protected” videos. thatway if any more SbSp, Full House, or any new movie get posted, they will be checked and removed.

However, i see one EASY way around this. Host the site offshore, where US copyright laws don’t apply. say…argentina?

PT says:

Re: Re:

Then I can see the entertainment industry lobbyists convince US legislators to pass new laws that force ISPs to ban “rogue” nations on a list from any outbound/inbound communications. Of course those nation’s can stay off the list as long as their leaders can be convinced to “do something about those illegal websites”. Depending on how much their country’s economy depends on US business, I’m pretty sure move nations would cave in.

discojohnson says:

Re: Re: Re:

would never, will never succeed. many child pornography sites are hosted in russia. i don’t see the US blocking traffic to/from that nation. online gambling taking place in other nations…no blocks there. it won’t happen because it’s simply not important enough–we put economic sanctions on north korea because they want to make nukes and want us all dead. we don’t shoot down all aircraft from columbia because they could have drugs.

PT says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Child pornography hosted from Russia doesn’t affect any competitor’s bottom line in the United States, obviously because there just isn’t an industry with lawyers and lobbyists standing in support of child porn…

There are plenty of businesses with shady moral and ethical issues that simply don’t get any attention from politicians because either there isn’t any political gain from doing anything about those industries or those industries don’t have a team of lawyers and lobbyists to convince politicians that there business needs to be protected from foreign competition.

But then why isn’t child porn, for example, banned in that manner? Because there’s enough cool heads to see the problem of doing this “rogue nation IP blacklist” and not enough child porn lobbyists and money thrown around to make politicians rethink their position on child porn. Most people would probably love to see a law like this in place if it eliminates or drastically reduces access to child porn.

As for online gambling, is it really a serious threat to the truly big gambling houses found in Las Vegas or Atlantic City? I may be wrong but I doubt it.

Like its been said, if its important enough, we’ll see laws created to hinder or promote a business.

Anonymous Coward says:

“…, but to evade the fingerprint system one would have to degrade the video so much as for it to be:

i) unencrypted but unwatchable
ii) effectively encrypted”

That’s very true – if you use encryption where it really matters !
Simply use I2P – whether someone spots something there or not simply doesn’t matter, and Philips or whoever can come up with whatever they like, noone will here them whining.

chris (profile) says:

who cares?

so the magic bullet can crawl youtube and spot copyrighted material. what’s to stop someone from posting the same thing over and over again? what’s to stop someone from adopting the botnet technology that spammers use to upload stuff all the time?

you cannot use money and technology to battle time and talent. you will never stop people from distributing digital content, authorized or otherwise because the distributors have unlimited resources (time and talent) and the content creators possess finite resources (money and technology).

it’s never going to stop. stop wasting money on stopping the inevitable and start investing it in cheaper ways to produce content.

Nick Burns says:

it works, but people won't like it

This is just like Schools can have students turn in papers through, where they are automatically checked for plagiarism against a ginormous (an actual word) collection of periodicals, papers and books. When they submit their papers, they are given a percentage scoring based on how much of their paper matches other sources in their databases, and whether those matches have been cited appropriately.

Also, when their papers are submitted, they become a part of the database, and are used to check further papers for plagiarism. This service isn’t free to schools, and since they are making money off of students’ papers, many have brought into question privacy and legality concerns.

This kind of system does work, but it won’t stop people from trading movies on IRC or eMule.

Andy says:

Re: Phillips the Latest to Try Magic Bulle

Thank-you Physics Guy. However, I think that my analysis also applies to online hosting sites like youtube and Although both have different methodologies of hosting; with vongo allowing consumers to download bit-torrent &encrypted movies, the fingerprint technology works the same with them. All that a host would have to do is change the file format, or set up encrypted connections and/or proprietary player plugins to prevent fingerprinting spiders from crawling a host to look for copy-protected technology. On the consumer side, its still easy to rip and convert anything out there; streaming or otherwise.

PhysicsGuy says:

Phillips the Latest to Try Magic B

my assumption would be that this is strictly for hosting sites that actually play the videos. any site where you can store any file type could easily get around this simply by raring the file with a password. that’s all it takes. from what i can tell, this would be strictly for sites like youtube and google video, anything using the bittorrent protocol would be completely unaffected. at the least the clients would have to slightly change. how effective would fuzzy pattern matching be if you XORed every nth group of bits and then NXORed them back after?

Andy says:

Re: Phillips the Latest to Try Mag

Sorry about the delayed response, TechDirt wasn’t allowing me to connect. By the way, I’d like to mention the little known fact that Techdirt is actually a private company that advises other companies about content through its blog. So while we are having this public exchange, somebody may be profiteering from our ideas and logging out personal information (IP, email, URL, etc.).

This aside, I’m not an expert in cryptography, but I can speak a little on NXORed. While you may be able to encrypt with predefined keys, this could be viewed legally as facilitating the transfer of copyrighted material. Thus, though the idea is a great one, its not likely to go into effect because the host would then be liable for whatever copy-right infringments occur. Since the economic threat of tort supecedes the economic benefit in facilitating video exchange, the notion of beating out spiders and fingerprinting probably won’t be executed with this method. Good thinking though! This aside, there is nothing preventing a computer savvy individual from bruteforcing encryption, or setting up a link on a hotspot to monitor IP and unencrypted information in the NAT. While Youtube and Google video may be hindered by this technology, there is nothing preventing someone from finding a means to rip the video and privately distribute it via email or similar viral technique. A question for you: If a host set up a private FTP in an off-shore host (say Nigeria for example), what is to stop a small computer savvy community from trading and distributing whatever they please? Is there a way for ISP to block service to specific domains?

misanthropic humanist says:

insurance policy

“…Thus, though the idea is a great one, its not likely to go into effect because the host would then be liable for whatever copy-right infringments occur. Since the economic threat of tort supecedes the economic benefit in facilitating video exchange…”

I think this is the nub of it. Not so much a method of restricting dissemination as a way of offering an “insurance service” to sites like YouTube and GoogleVideo that puts them in the clear because they
agree to run a filter with which both sides are happy. Which is exactly what they need.

“Techdirt is actually a private company that advises other companies about content through its blog. So while we are having this public exchange, somebody may be profiteering from our ideas..”

Perfect! 🙂 What more could one want as an original freethinker and meme merchant than a site that offers the service of spreading those thoughts to potentially influencial readers. Assuming anybody reads the comments. If I was a lobbyist I’d pay good money for an audience like that. Maybe Mike and the TechDirt crew are some of the few people about who “get” the economy of intellectual abundance and value of open exchange. Notwithstanding my propensity to fly off the handle at Americans because of my anger at the war, and some of the very aggressive and rude responses I hear, I’m actually quite hungry to read challenging alternative views too.

PhysicsGuy says:

Phillips the Latest to Try

I was talking about using rared files over the bittorrent protocol. there’s no getting around this in its use on youtube as long as their processing is time efficient. the use of raring or in some other way encrypting the data is applicable as far as the generalized sharing of files over p2p networks, were isps to implement this technology. basically, we’re in complete agreement on this. while fingerprinting would work for steaming video web hosting services it’s by far a “magic bullet” for unauthorized copying of copyrighted material. oh, and isps can block service to any domain they see fit, the real question is whether or not they’d have the balls to actually do it. 🙂

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