Protecting your images with Digimarc.

Images Digitally Watermarked by Digimarc | Get More Information on How to Digitally Watermark ImagesImages on the website have been digitally watermarked with ownership and usage information. Digimarc and the Digimarc logo are registered trademarks of Digimarc Corporation. The “Digimarc-Enabled” Web Button is a trademark of Digimarc Corporation, used with permission.

As long ago as Photoshop version 5.5 (and maybe earlier, I don’t recall) a filter choice was available to embed an “invisible” watermark into an image file.  This watermark could be read by software later, (and in Photoshop another filter actually lets you “read” the file to see if a watermark is included).

The company which designed the software found that random noise could be encoded in a file in a way to be virtually invisible to anyone that viewed it, but could be later decoded.  The logical extension of this was for copyright protection.  It’s a great idea, and if it could ever be introduced as a standard and made mandatory for websites and web browsers, it could really change the game as far as the prolific copyright infringement happening on the web.

Companies such as Google, Facebook, and new ones such as Pinterest have no fear of anything.  They find safe haven in clauses of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and put all responsibility for insuring copyrights on their users. In fact, Pinterest has the audacity to claim rights to an image posted to their site illegally … here’s some of the fine print.

By making available any Member Content through the Site, Application or Services, you hereby grant to Cold Brew Labs a worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, royalty-free license, with the right to sublicense, to use, copy, adapt, modify, distribute, license, sell, transfer, publicly display, publicly perform, transmit, stream, broadcast, access, view, and otherwise exploit such Member Content only on, through or by means of the Site, Application or Services.

So it appears if I pin an image by another photographer on their site (which they create a local jpeg by copying the original file from the site that was linked, and they do so my mining the code so right click blocks don’t stop them) they then claim they can do anything they want with that image.  Notice they even use the term exploit.  Then they turn around and put the responsibility back on the one pinning the image (where part of it should be) with this statement …

… you represent and warrant that: (i) you either are the sole and exclusive owner of all Member Content that you make available through the Site, Application and Services or you have all rights, licenses, consents and releases that are necessary to grant to Cold Brew Labs the rights in such Member Content, as contemplated under these Terms.

I’m not an attorney but to me this liability waiver is quite poorly worded and doesn’t even fit their model, since members don’t really add content, they provide links to other peoples content. Most of the stuff at Pinterest is rather benign (such as recipes, cloths, etc.) and not really an issue, and the content links to the hosting site, which most think it’s great  as it helps drive traffic.  But photographers are a little more sensitive, and I could probably go through Pinterests sites, copy the images and make a screen saver.

So if you pin something which is copyrighted, and the originator and copyright holder finds out about it, Pinterest really can’t get in trouble … they’ll put it all back on you. ( I think they are pushing the limit if they in turn try to use the content for their own benefit despite their attempting to lay claim to it). My problem is they make no efforts to control and educate anyone about honoring copyrights.  Images containing a visible watermark copyright can be found on Pinterest, and it’s doubtful those pinning them obtained the copyright.  Pinterest needs to rework their liability waiver wording (and recognize that members are not posting their own content but content of others), and should require those pinning to explicitly state they have the right to pin the image each time they pin one.  Sure many will lie or not pay attention, but at least there would be an effort to educate.  They should also add a slight watermark to everything pinned so the file on their site is unusable, and they should probably make the copied files a little smaller.  I think Pinterest is a great concept, but I do believe they should revisit their policies and try to improve things … they should show more respect to the rights of copyright holders (as should many other sites).

If Digimarc was adopted as a standard, and providers were forced to check each image uploaded to their sites for the watermark and inform the copyright holder, things would definitely be better.  In the meantime, Digimarc has helped improve their value recently by adding a service which crawls the web and looks at all the images they find. Any of those encoded with a Digimarc copyright are logged, and you have access to these records.

The price for 1 year of the service is $99, which includes embedding up to 2000 images with your account information and the results of the web crawl search service. My current gallery host Zenfolio is very good about preventing people from easily copying my files, but I’ve tested and the watermark even survives a screen grab.

Is it worth it?  I don’t know, but at least I feel I’m a little more proactive.

(If you want more information, click the Digimarc logo at the top of the page.)

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