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Wednesday, 09 January 2008

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Reading through to the end of the article, for the MS blog portion of the story, not only did MS grab the image, they hot linked to it.

Not only copyright infringment, but theft of bandwidth as well.

Of course, it's easy to retaliate against hotlinkers.

I think there are strategies we can all take to reduce or prevent internet image theft. We should probably assume it's a case of "when" rather than "if" it happens (speaking from experience here).

Image hosting sites should also make it clearer to casual users what the implications of uploading personal images to their location are.

Here are a few strategies I've personally used:

1. Choose an image host or web page design that prevents right-clicking and hotlinking.
2. Use slideshow animation (eg Flash).
3. Upload low resolution and low/medium quality JPEGs.
4. Watermark your images.
5. Utilise password protection for web gallery access.
6. Don't upload images that are particularly precious.
7. Save files as "Save For Web" JPEGs (there's an infamous story of a journalist who uploaded a cropped Photoshop JPEG of herself, but the file had a full-sized image within it without the crop, which turned out to be a topless photo).

Keep in mind that it's always possible to take a screenshot or search through a browser cache for an image.

From the article:

'What's noteworthy in each of these cases, Lessig says, "is that bloggers, a community typically associated with piracy, are rallying in support of copyright."
He says average individuals are increasingly thinking of themselves as artists, whose work has value -- or at least deserves respect.'

Two things I find noteworthy here. For one, the muddled message about bloggers and piracy [I assume Lessig is talking about software, music and film "piracy" here, not about actual piracy as observed in some African and Asian waters]. Does the author of the sentence really mean, bloggers are pirates, or is he talking about them being vigilante about it? In context I'd say the former - a notion that is ridiculous to the extreme; none of the blogs I read [or write] regularly is in any way connected to piracy. Not Mike Johnston, not Glenn Greenwald, Farad Mahjoo, Carl Weese etc.

It seems just another incident of 'I have no understanding of the Internet but will gladly come forth with any falsity I am able to concoct' expertise.

The second problem is one of very sloppy language, again showing an underlying bias. It is not the 'average individual' thinking his or her photos have any value aside from personal nostalgia. Clearly it is large corporations putting value on them, just not wanting to pay their dues.

As long as the dressed up pug was seen by a few friends for a chuckle the worth of the photo - in actuality as well as perceived by the photographer - was zero [in economic terms]. The moment FOX took it to use as an advert prop it became highly valuable.

This difference s important as it shows that it is the demand that makes the value. The companies using the photos, purportedly without knowing it is wrong, know very well how much it is worth. So, my conclusion is quite the opposite of that drawn by Lessig in the article: As long as companies get away with their double-standard, as long as they will only pay dues once exposed [and then often enough much less than is reasonable] they will go on stealing intellectual property while at the same time claiming a very harsh copyright for their own material.

The current WGA strike is a perfect example for this.

"What's noteworthy in each of these cases, Lessig says, 'is that bloggers, a community typically associated with piracy, are rallying in support of copyright.'"

Mike,

You and your nefarious, hypocritical brethren are the downfall of corporate America! Oh wait...no you're not. I think someone got their Internet lingo confused and mistook "bloggers" for "software pirates" or "hackers". They would probably claim it was an intern but, come on, we all know a teenager wouldn't make that mistake....

;-)
Adam

I think the issue here is that Fox didn't pay for the picture. What photographer in her right mind would care if a casual snapshot of her dog were used on a giant network, as long as she was properly compensated? I would think most photographers would be delighted. The problem is that Fox acts like it's free and that the photographer doesn't have to be compensated, not that they wanted to use the image.

Mike J.

The problem is that a lot of photographers are only to happy to have their images used for free. A dollar or two (microstock) would be nice, as would attribution, but they're optional - certainly not worth defending (or taking steps to prevent it, per Kelvin's list above.)

Corporations, like a lot of people, try to get away with whatever they can. Difference is that they have lots of lawyers on staff to help them get away with things. Maybe what's going on is that they are trying to use as many of these images for free as they can, hoping that the practice will eventually catch on big time, like illegal downloading and software piracy. Pretty soon the precedent is set and everybody will do it, because it will be the new normal.

So, as soon as you are blogging, you are a thief and one can get your Site content?
The world is insane.....

While this seems for the most part to be a pretty responsible blog from a copyright standpoint, there are tons of blogs out there that simply shovel other people's content with weak or missing attribution. I imagine this is the reputation that the article's writer may have been referring to.

The article emphasizes that the motivation to grab these user generated photos is to offer a more genuine advertisement. I take a more cynical view though and think these companies first and foremost are using the content because the people who generate it have no idea how much it is actually worth. Even if the company gets sued for using the content, in most cases it's still probably cheaper than actually paying a professional.

"1. Choose an image host or web page design that prevents right-clicking and hotlinking."

Preventing hotlinking is cool. But preventing right-clicking is an exercise in futility and a source of irritation. Once somebody has your photo in their browser window, it's on their hard disk. You say it yourself.

There's a slightly better way that will avoid the irritation - use the photo as the background of a DIV. The photo is still downloaded, though. It simply cannot be otherwise.

"4. Watermark your images."

Like, stick a big honking watermark all over the photo you want to show?

"5. Utilise password protection for web gallery access."

And what's the reason for putting the photos online then? If you want to have kinda lightbox for your friends or existing clients, fine. But if you want a web site that will show your photos to the world at large, and possibly even attract (new) clients, forgeddaboutit.

"(there's an infamous story of a journalist who uploaded a cropped Photoshop JPEG of herself, but the file had a full-sized image within it without the crop, which turned out to be a topless photo)"

That's either an urban legend or somebody misunderstood what happened, which almost certainly comes to the same thing. There's no way in heaven or hell for a JPEG to have a "full-sized image" inside. There's no "Photoshop" JPEG. Maybe she sent a TIFF or a PSD somewhere. And she had to use something like Paste Into to leave the full image. How many people use Paste Into when cropping? So all together, highly improbable.

"Choose an image host or web page design that prevents right-clicking..."

Do not do this!

Preventing right-clicking is tantamount to vandalizing a site user's browser. The right-click context menu is very valuable browser functionality. There's never an excuse to deny it to users because the reason for doing so is always misguided. In this case, it fails to provide significant protection from image copying because there are a dozen or so ways to achieve just that that don't involve the context menu.

The sites that employ context menu disabling scripts are merely broadcasting the amateurishness of their developers. Those that script an alert box (complete with condescending message) in its place are even worse and will simply turn off many legitimate visitors.

You can't prevent copying of images from a web page, so there's no point in trying. If a file is too precious to be copied, the only defense is not to put it on the web in the first place.

"What photographer in her right mind would care if a casual snapshot of her dog were used on a giant network, as long as she was properly compensated?" Mike, I for one would have to draw the line at Fox. Money isn't everything.

"It seems just another incident of 'I have no understanding of the Internet but will gladly come forth with any falsity I am able to concoct' expertise."

Dierk & Adam,
Lawrence Lessig is well known as a pro-little-guy IP lawyer. While I'd agree there are a lot of people out there posing as experts, Lessig is not one of those. He is referring to the large number of blogs that are critical of the current IP landscape which is perfectly illustrated in this article: corporate entities get IP rights, the little people don't.

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawrence_Lessig)

I actually think Dierk agrees with Lessig about the behavior of corporate interests in the current legal environment. Though Dierk does seem to be more pessimistic about the possibility of legal changes over time to benefit the little guy (and I'm inclined to agree with Dierk).

Once a photo is online, it's vulnerable to misappropriation no matter what its size. I recently caught someone stealing someone else's DA picture and re-uploading it without attribution. What are you going to do if you want your pictures to be seen but not misappropriated? Culture and law haven't caught up with technology. It's a free-for-all out there on the Beast. And there's no incentive for the big corporations to, for instance, invent a photo standard that embeds ownership information in every image, which then pays the owner every time the image is reconstructed from bits and displayed... Think how hard it would be to build an engine that keeps track of all that and pays people who sign up. "You want to see my image? You can only do so on a viewer that pays me." Defeats everyone's purpose. Or what about if the Beast tracked your use of bandwidth and what you viewed, and charged you for everything you saw? How many people would buy that idea? Face it, fellow photographers, you aren't going to get paid unless you only show your images to clients. You just have to manage the risk, upload small, and be your own good cop where you see the risk is high for thievery.

The 'topless journalist' comment isn't fiction - have a look at these links (nudity present in the first site):

http://www.geocities.com/cat_nude/
http://blogs.23.nu/disLEXia/topics/HiddenData/

Saving as a JPEG within Photoshop (instead of Imageready or Save For Web) will save a thumbnail within the file.

As for my comment regarding blocking right-clicking - it stops casual image thieves, but not the dedicated one.

I use image gallery password protection for client and family/friend photos. It goes without saying that it's not used for images sent out to the public domain.

erlik wrote:

"So all together, highly improbable."

Google "Cat Schwartz" and "Photoshop." You owe us a beer :-)

"Google "Cat Schwartz" and "Photoshop." You owe us a beer :-)"

Interesting. First time I heard about it. You live and learn.

But no. :-)

This may seem pedantic, but it's still not a JPEG with a full sized image in it. It's a thumbnail of the original image embedded into a changed image.

"the thumbnal in a JPEG file is different from the real image", from that Dislexia 3000 blog. Which is quite interesting. Thanks.

BTW, thumbnail is a part of JPEG specification. So there's nothing special in Photoshop embedding one. As far as I know, it's also saved in ImageReady and when you Save for Web or in any other program. I wonder what other programs have that bug of not changing the thumbnail to reflect the changes in the file. Cause that's a bug, not a feature.

Thomas,

'While I'd agree there are a lot of people out there posing as experts, Lessig is not one of those.'

It may well be that Lessig is a real expert on intellectual property - though that does not say much today since the whole matter is totally fubar and changing [hopefully] -, and I might even agree on many things with him. Unfortunately the quotation in question is highly problematic, a generalisation showing no understanding of the communication tool mentioned.

As is always the case, putting in too much detail [to show off expertise in most cases] inevitably leads to errors - and they in turn reflect on everything else one claims to know. I do not say here that these reflections are correct!

Like Daniel Dennett once said: 'There's nothing I like less than bad arguments for a view that I hold dear.'

Holds true for illustrations and claims, too.


PS: This post is just a clarification on my stance, not an argument [in the vernacular sense] on the merits of Mr Lessig.

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