Video filtering: Google’s bid to appease big content

As you’ve probably already read, the big news today is that Viacom has slapped Google and YouTube with a $1 billion federal lawsuit for “brazen disregard of the intellectual property laws.” The media giant claims that it has identified over 150,000 clips of its content on YouTube which have been seen by 1.5 billion sets of eyeballs. Setting aside the obvious legal implications of this news, I’d like to take a closer look at the technology that lies at the crux of this lawsuit: video filtering software.

You see, Viacom claims that it initially tried to play nice with YouToogle but found that the company was withholding filtering technology in order to “coerce rights holders to grant it licenses on favorable terms.” As the company found that having to file “takedown” notices for every infringing clip was too much work, it determined that “YouTube has deliberately chosen this approach because it allows YouTube to profit from infringement while leaving copyright owners insufficient means to prevent it.” YouTube fired back, stating that while it does offer certain filtering technologies to content partners, the reason that such software is not made available publicly is because the technology isn’t quite there yet. “It is going to roll out very soon… It is not far away,” Google CEO Eric Schmidt told Reuters recently.

It’s interesting then, that MotionDSP, a small, Silicon Valley video software company, is set to announce “a copyright detection technology that matches content solely on the video content,” later today. The company’s Ikena Copyright software will use video fingerprinting technology to identify content “by tracking the motion characteristics [in] the video.” Based on MotionDSP’s claims, this seems like a reliable method for identifying content: the software can allegedly find a duplicate video even if it’s been chopped up (Ikena can supposedly identify clips that are 20 seconds long in length), re-encoded at a lower quality, cropped, stretched or compressed to fit a different aspect ratio or re-colored. Is this the technology that YouTube plans to use? MotionDSP couldn’t be reached for comment at press time but their forthcoming press release hints that “Several major online video companies have already expressed strong interest in Ikena Copyright.”

The obvious implication here is that Google has been holding on to this technology up until now, waiting to see if the content industry would adapt and play along with YouTube’s business model. While some content companies have indeed adapted, Viacom has decided that it doesn’t want the free publicity that YouTube provides–it wants a cut of the profit. This presents a bit of a catch 22 for Google. If the company offers advanced filtering technology to content providers, YouTube will likely be stripped of a large portion of its infringing videos–which undoubtedly help drive traffic to the site. If Google doesn’t comply, it’s likely to face big lawsuits like this from just about everyone in the content industry. We all knew that YouTube would eventually arrive at these crossroads. Only one question remains: does Google have what it takes to weather the storm?

For more on the lawsuit:
– see this Ars Technica article
– and this one on filtering tools

For more on MotionDSP:
– see their website

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