Reading Avatar's DNA

December 21, 2010
This is an example of Dr. Alex Bronstein's "video DNA matching." Credit: AFTAU

You know when you're watching a pirated film downloaded from the Internet -- there's no mistaking the fuzzy footage, or the guy in the front row getting up for popcorn. Despite the poor quality, pirated video is a serious problem around the world. Criminal copyright infringement occurs on a massive scale over the Internet, costing the film industry -- and the U.S. economy -- billions of dollars annually.

Now Dr. Alex Bronstein of Tel Aviv University's Department of Electrical Engineering has a new way to stop video pirates. With his twin brother Michael and Israeli researcher Prof. Ron Kimmel, he has developed the ultimate solution: treating like DNA.

Sequencing the video genome

"It's not only members of the animal and plant kingdom that can have DNA," says Dr. Bronstein, who was inspired by DNA sequencing tools used in bioinformatics laboratories. "If a DNA test can identify and catch criminals, we thought that a similar code might be applicable to video. If the code were copied and changed, we'd catch it."

Of course, video does not have a real like members of the animal kingdom, so Dr. Bronstein and his team created a DNA analogue, like a unique fingerprint, that can be applied to video files. The result is a unique for each individual movie anywhere on the planet.

When scenes are altered, colors changed, or film is bootlegged on a camera at the movie theatre, the film can be tracked and traced on the Internet, explains Dr. Bronstein. And, like the films, video thieves can be tracked and caught.

The technology employs an invisible sequence and series of grids applied over the film, turning the footage into a series of numbers. The tool can then scan the content of Web sites where pirated films are believed to be offered, pinpointing subsequent mutations of the original.

The technique is called "video DNA matching." It detects aberrations in pirated video in the same way that biologists detect mutations in the genetic code to determine, for example, an individual's family connections. The technique works by identifying features of the film that remain basically unchanged by typical color and resolution manipulations, and geometric transformations. It's effective even with border changes, commercials added or scenes edited out.

Finding a common onscreen ancestry

The researchers have set their sights on popular video-sharing web sites like YouTube. YouTube, they say, automates the detection of to some degree, but their technique doesn't work when the video has been altered.

The problem with catching bootlegged and pirated video is that it requires thousands of man-hours to watch the content being downloaded. Production companies know their only hope in recouping stolen content is by automating the process. "Video DNA" can provide a more accurate and useful form of this automation.

Explore further: New system can improve video-sharing Web sites like YouTube

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not rated yet Dec 21, 2010
It's difficult to understand exactly what they're trying to say here. I /think/ they're saying TWO things:

1. They run their algorithm on a real, known movie file to generate the "DNA" code. They then have automated programs scan web sites with videos and do the same DNA generator on the downloaded videos. They then compare that new DNA to their database of pre-generated DNA codes to find a match.
2. They also automatically check to see if the colors and such are a little different, presumably to ID it as an illegal copy.

But, it seems #2 is a waste of time considering they already ID'd the movie... all they need to know is if that site is authorized to distribute it and considering they were scanning the site looking for illegal movies, they already know they're not, so I don't understand the purpose of finding poor quality copies.

not rated yet Dec 21, 2010

Maybe they're creating a second DNA of the illegal video... one that determines the signature of the poor quality, so they can then compare that to other illegal copies found of the same movie to see if it's from the same source? But, the text above seems to say that the DNA generated makes the same DNA in spit of differences in poor quality like "the guy in the front row getting up for popcorn".

If they ARE creating a second DNA code, to identify the uniqueness of that lower quality copy, you'd think they could just do a CRC on the file which would require WAY fewer computer resources and be just as (or more) accurate. Perhaps they're wanting to ID the same original source even after it's been converted to other formats that would make the CRC method invalid?

I wish they'd rewrite this article and be a little more clear.
not rated yet Dec 22, 2010
This is the main message:
Criminal copyright infringement occurs on a massive scale over the Internet, costing the film industry -- and the U.S. economy -- billions of dollars annually.
Everybody knows why this is a wrong statement.
But the relation between the film industry and money is well established. It may pay out to do them a favour once in a while.

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