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Image theft - would this be possible and would it help stop the problem


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Been reading about the problems of image theft and recovery in few different threads and it got me to thinking.   I have had an idea - one I do not know is even possible - but something that could be applied to start making tracing thefts easier and proving thefts cheaper.

Digital images all have EXIF data right?   So why not have an EXIF field for a unique random number.  Then every time an agency sells an image it generates a random number that is linked to that specific sale licence on the agency file only - and that number is entered in the box.  As it is random and unique faking becomes very difficult.  All images sold have a contract that states the number must not - cannot be removed from the EXIF.  Any person buying an image for print must keep a digital version stored.    Then any time theft or infringement is suspected the EXIF data can be checked to reveal who licenced the image and what for - which will be evidence if the user is nothing to do with the owner, evidence of which owner the image was stolen from, or alternately evidence of licence terms being exceeded.

I believe that most, if not all countries pay at least lip service to the idea that stealing copyright, is wrong,  that the problems come with enforcing because of the difficulties of proving who bought what where and whether something was stolen or is being used outside of licence terms.  Surely if it is easier to prove something is stolen it should make it easier to enforce in every country - and if just one agency were to start doing it so that they could easily prove that the person or company using an image is not the one who bought it and is using it illegally other agencies would soon follow suit - and the more that followed the more solid the system becomes and the more difficult it becomes to get away with it.

Now, this seems like such an obvious solution to me that I am sure it must have been thought of before - so there must be reasons it wont work - if not why are we not doing it already?

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4 hours ago, Thyrsis said:

Again, we'd need to know how many infringers are actually claiming that they have legitimately bought the file.

I seriously doubt that happens very often, but to be honest, I have no idea.

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15 minutes ago, wiskerke said:

Most if not all CMS-s strip all EXIF data.

Photoshop strips all EXIF if you use save for web. Including copyright data.

 

There's EUrion and Digimarc. Digimarc has been included as a filter in Photoshop since many years.

 

wim

Again, how many caught infringers actually claim to have purchased the files legitimately? I'd have expected the percentage to be pretty small, and only the most stupid of infringers.

Maybe Alamy could officially comment on this?

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6 hours ago, Cryptoprocta said:

But as my recent experience with the Irish lawyer showed, infringers don't necessarily deny stealing an image: they just don't respond to contacts.

The EXIF of my file on their site shows my copyright and gives Alamy's address.

At the moment they can get away with ignoring contacts because experience tells them that doing so will end the problem - that they will not be taken to court or punished.  That they are not taken to court or punished is due partly to the costs of proving the theft in the first place.  With a system that provides a unique number showing who purchased the image when for what purpose, and where there is a contractual obligation to keep the information embedded then it becomes easier and therefore cheaper to prove theft - and if the number has been removed sue for breach of contract.  As soon as more people are taken to court and lose, ignoring contacts will not be an option (good chance it will increase punishment) because people will know they can no longer get away with things

6 hours ago, wiskerke said:

Most if not all CMS-s strip all EXIF data.

Photoshop strips all EXIF if you use save for web. Including copyright data.

 

There's EUrion and Digimarc. Digimarc has been included as a filter in Photoshop since many years.

 

wim

Again you make it part of the purchase contract that the information must not be stripped - easy enough to get photoshop to leave stuff if told to.  If info is stripped it is breach of contract - and you sue.

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The technology has been there for some time but the likes of Alamy do not have the will to implement it-  when you have 40,000plus contributors and 150 million files why bother if it will cost you more to implement than you get back. Both contributors and picture files are dispensable these days.

 

Regen

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2 hours ago, Starsphinx said:

At the moment they can get away with ignoring contacts because experience tells them that doing so will end the problem - that they will not be taken to court or punished.  That they are not taken to court or punished is due partly to the costs of proving the theft in the first place. 

Talking about the UK, Crypto's infringer is outside the jurisdiction. UK infringers don't usually ignore contact because by now they know there's a low-cost process through IPEC.

It's a much better option than some technocratic breach of contract suit for possibly minimal damages  that risks out-of control costs.

Edited by spacecadet
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FWIW, in the U.S., it is a separate copyright violation to strip the EXIF / METADATA from an image unless you are the copyright holder.  Not that it stops any theft.  It seems stealing images is becoming the norm.  Another person I know left Flickr just for that reason.

 

Rick

 

BTW, I think I read somewhere that Block Chain was coming to photography very soon.  Can't remember the details but I believe it did have something to do with combating image theft etc...

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On 20/12/2018 at 07:19, Starsphinx said:

Again you make it part of the purchase contract that the information must not be stripped - easy enough to get photoshop to leave stuff if told to.  If info is stripped it is breach of contract - and you sue.

Alamy would be rather reluctant to sue a buyer, or let you do so. Even requiring buyers to put a credit within the image doesn't put off a subset of image thieves infringers.

 

Even if the buyer left the EXIF intact, if the pic is online, simply 'copy image' and pasting into Photoshop, the EXIF info is gone.

To keep the EXIF, you need to 'save as', then load into PS from your drive.

NB, that's Photoshop EXIF, I don't know about Digimarc or EUrion.

 

As I've discovered, pursuing an infringing party outwith the UK is expensive and time-consuming. Outwith the EU, where IME most infringements occur (as soon as a file appears on the website of a newspaper, the article and photo appears on many East Asian blogs) it would be a full time job for a very rich person with their own fill-time  international IP attorney with nothing else to do.

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12 hours ago, Rick Lewis said:

BTW, I think I read somewhere that Block Chain was coming to photography very soon.  Can't remember the details but I believe it did have something to do with combating image theft etc...

Several wanabe blockchain photo agencies have already come and gone.

All of them were all about the technology and had no knowledge of, or passion for, image sales.

 

You'd then have to ask how many buyers would be interested in this extra level of hassle.

And again, how often with an abuser is the issue that they're claiming to have bought the image when they haven't? I haven't read one example of that (which doesn't mean none exist, but it's pretty easy to clarify the truth).

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6 minutes ago, Cryptoprocta said:

NB, that's Photoshop EXIF, I don't know about Digimarc or EUrion.

 

They are in the image itself. Visible/hiding in plain sight. And can withstand quite some resizing/re-jpeg-ing. The EUrion constellation is not for our own images: it's to protect banknotes. It works like a digital watermark.

Digimarc is a sort of barcode hidden in one or more color layers in an image, but it works in audio as well. (wiki)

It has been included as a plug-in in Photoshop since 1996.

I have only once been able to find it in an image, so it's well possible to clone it out, but you will have to find all instances first, like with EUrion.

One can use this as a digital watermark on one's own files. But that's kind of useless in stock nowadays. It would be very useful for RM if the agency would add it to every new license. This would work even with RF to identify the non-paying users. You would need really strict contract prohibiting redistribution and syndication. And strict policing. Allowing redistribution gets you into the extended licenses. At which point you're basically giving your image away for just a bit more. Eternal Christmas.

 

wim

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46 minutes ago, Cryptoprocta said:

Alamy would be rather reluctant to sue a buyer, or let you do so. Even requiring buyers to put a credit within the image doesn't put off a subset of image thieves infringers.

 

Even if the buyer left the EXIF intact, if the pic is online, simply 'copy image' and pasting into Photoshop, the EXIF info is gone.

To keep the EXIF, you need to 'save as', then load into PS from your drive.

NB, that's Photoshop EXIF, I don't know about Digimarc or EUrion.

 

As I've discovered, pursuing an infringing party outwith the UK is expensive and time-consuming. Outwith the EU, where IME most infringements occur (as soon as a file appears on the website of a newspaper, the article and photo appears on many East Asian blogs) it would be a full time job for a very rich person with their own fill-time  international IP attorney with nothing else to do.

So somebody copying and pasting from online would lose the data that would track the image back to where it was stolen from?  Darn.

I was thinking the fact that the data was stripped would indicate illegal use still - but  you would not be able to track where it was stolen from.

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18 minutes ago, Starsphinx said:

So somebody copying and pasting from online would lose the data that would track the image back to where it was stolen from?  Darn.

I was thinking the fact that the data was stripped would indicate illegal use still - but  you would not be able to track where it was stolen from.

Would that it were that simple!

 

But again, you're not addressing the central question of how many caught infringers claim they have legitimately bought the file. Otherwise, if selling RM, it's relatively easy to track down. If you suspect an Alamy image has not been sold via Alamy, you have to contact them anyway, and my 'other place' also has that proviso in the contract. The sellers don't want us mistakenly accusing legitimate sellers.

If selling RF, especially when via multiple distributors it's far more difficult to know who a legitimate buyer might be, and they may legitimately have used a file several times. That's when your digimarc etc might come in useful - except that you still wouldn't necessarily be able to glean from that whether a sale was legit. For example, designer A might have bought the file to use on client B's website.

 

BTW, I'm not sure if the EXIF stays intact if e.g. a magazine article with pics is pinned or shared on social media, which is allowed by e.g. Alamy. Once an image is on social media, it's 'generally assumed' that it's there to be shared (as there is often no indication otherwise). People can be genuinely astonished when told t'ain't necessarily so - remember we don't come out of the womb with a knowledge of IP, and many of us are too old to have had any chance of being given that info in school.

Edited by Cryptoprocta
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The legitimacy was the whole intent of the unique number - Joe blogs buys an image for this use - it is assigned a unique number embedded in the image which is linked to the specific sale.  John Brown and Maisie Gray both also buy the same image - and have unique numbers embedded in their image linked to their licences.  Then one day the creator of the image spots it being used on Tricky Dickys site - Tricky Dicky says he got it legit he did but that unfortunate incident destroyed the evidence it did.  The unique number embedded in the image  means the image can be shown to be that of Joe Blogs and the licence terms do not cover what Tricky is using it for.  Joe Blogs says he did not provide it to Tricky - and there is your case, Tricky is using an image taken from Blogs without permission as proven by this embedded number - now cough up Tricky and buy your own licence or we take you to court (and the licence includes a 20% surcharge to cover admin of enforcement)

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2 minutes ago, Starsphinx said:

The legitimacy was the whole intent of the unique number - Joe blogs buys an image for this use - it is assigned a unique number embedded in the image which is linked to the specific sale.  John Brown and Maisie Gray both also buy the same image - and have unique numbers embedded in their image linked to their licences.  Then one day the creator of the image spots it being used on Tricky Dickys site - Tricky Dicky says he got it legit he did but that unfortunate incident destroyed the evidence it did.  The unique number embedded in the image  means the image can be shown to be that of Joe Blogs and the licence terms do not cover what Tricky is using it for.  Joe Blogs says he did not provide it to Tricky - and there is your case, Tricky is using an image taken from Blogs without permission as proven by this embedded number - now cough up Tricky and buy your own licence or we take you to court (and the licence includes a 20% surcharge to cover admin of enforcement)

Add an extra 20%, you lose a lot more than 20% of sales.

 

You are writing your own scenario here. How often do caught infringers claim to have paid for the file?

Just like in an accusation of physical theft, loss of receipt could cause problems, but there might be other indications, e.g. bank statements, accounts of vendor etc.

 

I honestly don't think there is a large-scale problem with infringers claiming to have bought file usages when they haven't, or claim when challenged that their paid-for uses were wider than they were. Inadvertant infringement is possible and no doubt happens, but I don't think that's the main issue. Even the DM paid up when the 22 unreported uses were pointed out (even though at a price lower than they would have paid for at the time of use, which is unconscionable).

 

I think the main issues are genuine ignorance, or (like my Irish lawyer) sheer bl**dy-mindedness. (In case you wondered, I'm still waiting for a reply from the Law Society of Ireland, but the tracked date of receipt there was six days after I posted it, so I might not receive any reply until after Christmas/New Year.)

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Has anyone had experience of Fipboard (www.flipboard.com) copying an image from a UK newspaper? Alamy say they cannot pursue it because it is a “lifted use” from The Metro, who purchased it. 

Edited by Sally
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6 hours ago, Sally said:

Has anyone had experience of Fipboard (www.flipboard.com) copying an image from a UK newspaper? Alamy say they cannot pursue it because it is a “lifted use” from The Metro, who purchased it. 

I haven't had that particular company, but Alamy have often refused to pursue a 'lifted use', which I've reported (but say I can pursue myself). Lots of these appear to be 'news aggregators'.

Edited by Cryptoprocta
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1 minute ago, Cryptoprocta said:

I haven't had that particular company, but Alamy have often refused to pursue a 'lifted use', which I've reported (but say I can pursure myself). Lots of these appear to be 'news aggregators'.

Yes that is what it is, but US based. I imagine if I complain they’ll just remove the image, but offer no payment even though it’s copied from an article from last April. Probably not worth pursuing...

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6 hours ago, Starsphinx said:

I swear that is the biggest problem with image theft - Not Worth Pursuing.  Until these thefts become worth pursuing people will continue to steal from us.

It’s only worth pursuing if it is likely to achieve something in terms of gain. Most of the time, the effort, time and expense involved makes it definitely not worth pursuing if you value your time. In the beginning, I felt outraged like you. I think I am now more realistic. In this particular case, there is a twist that I need to investigate and may report on later if it’s worthwhile.

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14 minutes ago, Sally said:

It’s only worth pursuing if it is likely to achieve something in terms of gain. Most of the time, the effort, time and expense involved makes it definitely not worth pursuing if you value your time. In the beginning, I felt outraged like you. I think I am now more realistic. In this particular case, there is a twist that I need to investigate and may report on later if it’s worthwhile.

Is that the same 'Flipboard' which was installed by default on my android phone? If so, it seems be a Reuters company, which is apparently London-based.

 

Oh, I'm really confused. On my phone, it says it's a Reuters app. It's the same logo on FF on my desktop, but there it says it's based in Palo Alto, Ca, and doesn't mention a Reuters connection.

Except elsewhere I found this: https://it-it.about.flipboard.com/reuters-news-service-now-wired-for-flipboard

 

Interested to hear of the twist. Good luck!

 

 

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11 hours ago, Sally said:

It’s only worth pursuing if it is likely to achieve something in terms of gain. Most of the time, the effort, time and expense involved makes it definitely not worth pursuing if you value your time. In the beginning, I felt outraged like you. I think I am now more realistic. In this particular case, there is a twist that I need to investigate and may report on later if it’s worthwhile.

Oh I am not exactly outraged - more exasperated with a system that trains victims not to seek justice by making seeking justice too much effort and money.  Trust me this is not limited to image theft - the UK legal system is in an unbelievable state right now simply because Joe Public is happy to ignore it so long as not directly involved.   I tend to avoid doing outraged - but am sometimes prepared to make sacrifices to make a point - although I really shouldn't as the standard response of people to points is "so what"

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  • 2 weeks later...
On 21/12/2018 at 16:04, Sally said:

Has anyone had experience of Fipboard (www.flipboard.com) copying an image from a UK newspaper? Alamy say they cannot pursue it because it is a “lifted use” from The Metro, who purchased it. 

Just so everyone knows, images found on a relatively new site/app called Flipboard are not going to count as additional uses. I found one of mine there, that originally Alamy told me looked like a “lifted use”. When I contacted Flipboard, I was told that 

 

“it lives on Metro UK's website and is hosted on their servers. What you see is not a copy made by Flipboard. Simply put, Flipboard provides a view to the original source--in this case, that's to our partner Metro UK”.

 

Alamy subsequently chased this up with The Metro and confirmed that

 

as the article wording is the same and the link below the image on Flipboard goes directly back to same article on the Metro, this would be classed as in an context use. As the link is a direct link back to the original article source this would be covered under the license”

Edited by Sally
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