Digital video fingerprinting

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Video fingerprinting is a technique in which software identifies, extracts, and then compresses characteristic components of a video, enabling that video to be uniquely identified by its resultant “fingerprint”. Video fingerprinting is technology that has proven itself to be effective at identifying and comparing digital video data.

Video fingerprinting analysis may be based on any number of visual video features such as key frame analysis, color, and motion changes during a video sequence.

Compared to hash codes[edit]

Normally, digital data are compared based on hash values that are directly derived from the digital components of a file. However, such methods are incomplete as they can only determine absolute equality or non-equality of video data files or parts. More often than not, differences in a video codec and digital processing artifacts may cause small differences in the digital components without changing the video perceptually. Thus, when employing hash methods, a comparison for absolute equality may fail even when two video segments are perceptually identical. Moreover, hash value comparisons are also of little value when one wishes to identify video segments that are similar (but not identical) to a given reference clip. The limitations of the equality/inequality dichotomy inherent to hash value techniques render “similar searching” impossible.

Also, digital video fingerprinting enables to recognize videos with a different resolution compared with the original (smaller or larger), and to recognize videos that have been modified slightly (blurring, rotation, acceleration or deceleration, cropping, insertions of new elements in the video), and videos where the audio track has been modified.

Compared to watermarking[edit]

Video fingerprinting should not be confused with digital watermarking which relies on inserting identifying features into the content, and therefore changing the nature of the content. Some watermarks can be inserted in a way that they remain imperceptible by a viewer. A robust watermark can be difficult to detect and remove, but removal of invisible watermarks is a significant weakness.

Since watermarks must be inserted into the video, they only identify copies of the particular video made after that point in time. For example, if a watermark is inserted at broadcast it cannot be used to identify copies of the video made before the broadcast.

Video fingerprinting does not rely on any addition to the video stream. A video fingerprint cannot be "removed" because it is not "added". In addition, a reference video fingerprint can be created at any point from any copy of the video.

Watermarks offer some advantages over fingerprinting. A unique watermark can be added to the content at any stage in the distribution process and multiple independent watermarks can be inserted into the same video content. This can be particularly useful in tracing the history of a copy of a video. Detecting watermarks in a video can indicate the source of an unauthorized copy.

While video fingerprinting systems must search a potentially large database of reference fingerprints, a watermark detection system only has to do the computation to detect the watermark. This computation can be significant and when multiple watermark keys must be tested then watermarking can fail to scale to UGV site volumes.


Video fingerprinting is of interest in the Digital Rights Management (DRM) area, particularly regarding the distribution of unauthorized content on the Internet. Video fingerprinting systems enable content providers (e.g., film studios) or publishers (e.g., UGC sites) to determine if any of the publisher's files contain content registered with the fingerprint service. If registered content is detected, the publisher can take the appropriate action – remove it from the site, monetize it, add correct attribution, etc.

Video fingerprinting within Smart TV is enabling an emerging category of interactive television applications. Television devices integrated with real-time fingerprinting software can automatically recognize the video content on-screen in order to enable interactive features and applications on top of the programming. Entrepreneur Mark Cuban has made investments to leverage this technology to create interactive features for his cable networks HDNet and AXS.<ref>investments</ref>

Video fingerprinting may be used for broadcast monitoring (e.g., advertisement monitoring, news monitoring) and general media monitoring. Broadcast monitoring solutions can inform content providers and content owners with play lists of when and where their video content was used.

In April 2014 the British company Friend MTS Ltd. donated its video fingerprinting technology (known as F1) to the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children (ICMEC) to help increase the efficiency of child pornography investigations, and to halt the continued sharing of similar files over the internet.<ref name=wiredabuse>Liat Clark (April 30, 2014). "Child abuse-tracking tech donated to the world". Wired UK. </ref><ref>Jeff Elder (April 30, 2014). "British Company Donates Tech to Fight Child Porn". The Wall Street Journal. </ref> ICMEC distributes the technology to law enforcement agencies, software providers, and online service providers to hinder the spread of such material.<ref name=newv>"New Video Fingerprinting Technology Created to Remove Child Pornography Online". MarketWatch. April 30, 2014. </ref><ref>"Fingerprints Used to Track Abuse Images". Sky News. May 5, 2014. Archived from the original on May 8, 2014. </ref>

Video fingerprinting is also used by authorities to track the distribution of illegal content such as happy slapping, terrorist, and child abuse related videos. Another use is for companies to track the leak of confidential recordings or videos, or for celebrities to track the presence on the Internet of unauthorized videos (for instance, videos of themselves taken by amateurs using a camcorder or a mobile phone).

Video fingerprint can also be used to create content-aware video advertising. As one implementation, if a video service provider distributes a nationally broadcast video content which contains a nationally broadcast TV commercial, a localized overlay of text/graphics may be performed on the national commercial. This way, the national commercial will have local overlay of information specific to that commercial. For example, if the national commercial contains a 15-second spot for a Ford Explorer SUV, through the fingerprint technology, local operators may put an overlay of the local dealership information – phone number, promotion, etc. – over the 15-second commercial, creating a localized commercial for the SUV that appears to be targeted only for the local audience.

Fingerprinting visual content is similar to audio fingerprinting but uses a different technology. From a content provider's point of view, both video and audio fingerprinting need to be used in most applications. Consider the online publication of "mash-ups". Mash-ups can consist of content from several sources that is compiled together and is set to a unique audio track. Since the audio track is different from the original version, the copyrighted material in these mash-ups would go undetected using only audio fingerprinting techniques. In other cases, mash-ups consist of the soundtrack from a commercial video source, like a movie, used with a different video stream. In this case, a video fingerprint would not match but an audio fingerprint would. When the audio and video streams are not from the same master work, the question of fair-use may arise.

This discrepancy has real applications in the global online community in terms of film distribution. Films shown in countries other than their country of origin are often dubbed into other languages. This change in audio renders the films virtually unrecognizable by audio fingerprinting technologies unless a copy of all known versions has been fingerprinted. Employing video fingerprinting, however, enables the content owner to fingerprint just once and have each subsequent version remain recognizable. If the customer wishes to know which language soundtrack is present on a particular video, then an audio fingerprint must be used.