Presently, most automated systems can only identify copyrighted video material if it’s a direct copy, still bearing the unique digital signature of the original. This can sometimes be circumvented by altering the copy, or creating the copy optically using a video camera to shoot a movie off the screen. A new anti-piracy technology called “video DNA matching,” however, sees past such deception.

The system was developed by Tel Aviv University’s Dr. Alex Bronstein, his brother Michael, and Prof. Ron Kimmel. It starts by applying a series and sequence of invisible grids over the picture, that are used to assign the footage a unique numerical code based on its visual content. The system can then scan the contents of websites suspected of distributing pirated movies, looking for that same code... or mutations of it. Even if the color, resolution or geometry are altered, or if footage has been added or taken out, the underlying DNA analogue should still be recognizable.

“It's not only members of the animal and plant kingdom that can have DNA,” said Dr. Bronstein. “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.”

Video DNA matching is reminiscent of a system recently created at the University of Granada, that is able to search videos for footage of people in given poses or performing given actions.