This Startup Claims It Can Spot Stolen Video Better Than YouTube

'From our tests, and without wanting to be cocky, we are better than YouTube and Facebook'

YouTubers might like a way to know if their videos have been copied to Tencent Video. Public Domain

Old movies that weren’t iconic cultural touchstones are pretty easy to find, posted in their entirety for free viewing, on YouTube. You didn’t know there was a Dungeons & Dragons movie, right? It’s on there (but don’t watch it). Deathbed: The Bed That Eats? Check. Even Australia’s finest 1980s export, Young Einstein, can be found pirated in its entirety for free. This one is the weirdest, because YouTube also offers the film via it’s paid service that no one uses.

One would think YouTube would search especially hard for illicit free versions of flicks it wants to sell.   

A new startup out of Portugal claims to have built a tool that spots stolen content better than the crew in Mountain View. “The reason we launched this tool is that for some reason, they have a bunch of full length movies that are not taken down by YouTube automatically,” Joao da Maia Jorge, co-founder and CEO of Boom Vision, which made Spotter, a computer vision system for reverse video search. 

Spotter soft-launched as a beta that can search YouTube or Facebook about a week ago.

Reverse video search is the next logical step from reverse image search. Right now, internet users can take a photo and upload it to Google Images and find places the image has been used across the web. That’s how we hunted down a ton of versions of K.C. Green‘s famous “This is fine” panel—which has become one of the web’s most enduring memes—for a story we did about content attribution.

It’s natural that someone would want to do it for video. In fact, it’s hard to believe that YouTube isn’t already doing it, at least internally. “From our tests, and without wanting to be cocky, we are better than YouTube and Facebook,” Jorge told us. It’s worth meeting any claim by a tiny startup to outperform two of the biggest companies in the world with a grain of salt.

Regardless, even if Spotter doesn’t beat those guys, they also aren’t letting the general public play with their digital toys.

“It’s a question of democratizing the technology,” Jorge said. He argues that part of the reason Spotter does so well is because it does less. Other similar tools probably analyze both sound and images. Spotter only uses computer vision, but this has an advantage. By only looking at the images, it can find copies where the video is the same but the sound has been dubbed in another language, for example. 

Jorge claims that its software is also robust. It can spot a copy even if text or other effects have been added on top of the video. “Simply put, that’s where we are different.” The video could also be flipped, cropped or degraded in quality, but tests show Spotter has a good shot at finding it. 

It has some case studies posted on its site, including one for the Thor: Ragnarok trailer, finding 371 copies on public Facebook pages and 323 copies on YouTube, for a grand total of 164 million views.

The obvious use case for this technology is catching pirates, but the Thor example illustrates another one, measuring the reach of marketing. Marvel probably doesn’t really care if people steal its trailer because it wants people to go see the film. The more people who see that trailer, the larger its audience should be on opening weekend.

Marketers that make promotional content want a way to know when it goes viral. If a video manages to reach further than its official channels, the companies behind those promotions want a way to measure that and report back on the reach to the people that hired them.

But piracy is a key issue too, and Spotter has already been tested on sites known for hosting a lot of lifted film, like Twitter, Daily Motion and Tencent.

Mainstream video creators aren’t the only one who might be interested in ways to find stolen content at scale. Spotter has also crawled Pornhub, as well. Piracy has decimated the adult industry, as the CBC reported in its “Porn-o-nomics” radio documentary.

Just because Spotter can find this stuff, though, doesn’t mean that the public will actually want to look. Let’s say that Warner Bros can quickly find all the copies of Young Einstein out there in the world, is there still enough revenue left in that 1989 gem for it to do the work to get the copies taken down?

There might be. Or it might become so easy to automate that sharing pirated stuff on the big sites becomes too much bother.

If that becomes the case, bored internet users might soon have to do considerably greater lengths to get a nostalgia fix with 1987’s Monster Squad or a whatever-fix with anything in the Debbie Does franchise.