copyright infringement

Once a month (or so) I sit down at the computer and go through my portfolio with Tineye and Google image search to back track my images on the net. It doesn’t always come up with something, but sometimes it actually does.
Yesterday and today I did my routine and at this point the counter is on 20+ non-commercial blogs and 3 commercial pages. Typically I don’t mind if people use my images on their blogs, as long as it is -indeed- non-commercial. I do require a credit line and/or a link back to my page, and if a blog doesn’t have it, I write the blog owner a mail to kindly add the credit line / link or remove the image. Usually they add the credit line. Sometimes they don’t. If they get wise on me I’ll write the host / provider a mail and then the image will be taken down in most cases by the host, but usually I don’t let it go that far, nor does the blog owner. Usually it is -still, can you believe it??- the blog owner thinking that “whatever’s on the internet I can use for free, since it’s public property”. A little bit of kindness and education goes a long way.

With the commercial ones I’m less forgiving.
Before I do anything I make screenshots of the websites / pages I find my images on, and, depending on the kind of commercial website, I check the Internet Archive to see if I can find out how long the image has been on the website. If you fail to do the first, which I did in my first few times, there’s always still the option to go through the Internet Archives, but it’s better to have a fresh screenshot of the website BEFORE they take down the pictures and start denying things.
Then I write them a mail, very friendly, very informal, to start with, asking them to kindly send me copy of the license they have on file for the image used, since I can’t find it in my archives. There’s always the possibility that they actually purchased the image through one of the agencies I’m with and that -for whatever reason- the sale never came through to me. In that case it’s not the fault of the company, but of my agent and I know I have to pull someone else’s hair.
Usually there’s a bit of tugging back and forth; denial (we didn’t do it, our web designer did, etc. etc.), ignorance (we didn’t know, we thought that [insert one of 10,000 excuses I’ve heard]), or just plain brutality (it’s in Google image search, so I can use it for free). In the end I mostly manage to settle. Until now (knock on wood!) I’ve only once had to step up with a lawyer, and of course, me having the raw file and all, it was a no-brainer. Can’t go into details, since they made me sign a gag-contract, but I got better off it. A lot better. And it would’ve been settled for a lot less had they not gone so idiotically Homer Simpson on me.
Anyway… After having done this for a couple of years now I thought I saw pretty much all the surprises.
But then again… Facebook hasn’t been around for THAT long.
So today I was at it again, and you can picture my surprise when one of my images, watermarked and all by one of my agencies, came up as a profile picture on a Facebook profile:

Facebook profile

Screenshot from the Facebook profile that has my picture

So this is an image that was ripped straight from Photographer’s Direct. The image here:
Man in a dark tunnel

This is a self-portrait I did a couple of years ago, so you can imagine that -even if I’m not recognizable in the picture- I don’t like it at all that someone’s using this particular image as a profile picture on Facebook. Sure, the image is for sale, but this wasn’t a sale, and the guy in question didn’t ask for permission to use this image.

So that’s the story of today…
Now I’m pondering whether I should contact the guy myself or should I ask Facebook to do the work for me…?
What say you, crowd?

I subscribed to the magazine in the past, and since a year or so I’ve been subscribing again. I really like the magazine, it’s got great articles and it’s got magnificent images. And they even allow you to submit your images for possible inclusion in the magazine. They have this “Picture of the Month” going on every month and if you get to be it (or your image, that is), you can win amazing prizes and you get to be published in the magazine. It would be a great thing for your portfolio to be featured in the magazine. I would like to, in any case.

So off I went, to the website of National Geographic, where I’m instantly prompted to subscribe. That is, sign up, give all my information (which, if you read the terms and conditions, you swear to be up to date and correct). And, paranoid as I am (and I’m probably one of the very few who actually reads these terms and conditions), I quickly scroll through the text and come to a full stop at point five. I blink. It must be lack of sleep. I blink again. The text is still there.
Actually, to be honest, this happened already quite awhile ago, and I’m not quite sure why I write about this only now, but anyway… I wrote them a mail several times in which I ask to clarify the terms set out on their website, but I didn’t get any reply. Any sign of life. Not even an automated response with “thanks for your mail, we will ignore you like the plague”.

I re-read the text, just to make sure I read what I read. I quote point five to you below (courtesy of the Terms and Conditions on http://www.nationalgeographic.com/community/terms/

For clarity, you retain all of your ownership rights in material you upload, comments you post, or other content you provide to the Site (“User Content”). By uploading User Content, you grant National Geographic (which includes its subsidiaries, affiliates, joint venturers, and licensees) the following rights: a royalty-free, worldwide, perpetual license to display, distribute, reproduce, and create derivatives of the User Content, in whole or in part, without further review or participation from you, in any medium now existing or subsequently developed, in editorial, commercial, promotional, and trade uses in connection with NG Products. National Geographic may license or sublicense, in whole or in part, to third parties rights in User Content as appropriate to distribute, market, or promote such NG Products. An NG Product is defined as “a product of National Geographic, a subsidiary, affiliate, joint venturer, or licensee of National Geographic, in any language, over which National Geographic has “Editorial Control.” For the purposes of this Agreement, “Editorial Control” means the right to review, consult regarding, formulate standards for, or to exercise a veto over the appearance, text, use, or promotion of the NG Product. You also agree that National Geographic may make User Content available to users of the Site who may display and redistribute it in the same way that National Geographic makes all other Content available.

So… In any case I retain all of my ownership rights in material that I upload. But…
And it’s a big But (big bones, can’t help it!):
Upon accepting the Terms and Conditions I grant National Geographic (which includes its subsidiaries, affiliates, joint venturers, and licensees) the following rights: a royalty-free, worldwide, perpetual license to display, distribute, reproduce, and create derivatives of the User Content, in whole or in part, without further review or participation from you, in any medium now existing or subsequently developed, in editorial, commercial, promotional, and trade uses in connection with NG Products.

And the following sentence, equally disturbing:
Upon accepting the Terms and Conditions I allow National Geographic to license or sublicense, in whole or in part, to third parties rights in User Content as appropriate to distribute, market, or promote such NG Products.

And the one that’s screaming injustice in my face:
Upon accepting the Terms and Conditions I also agree that National Geographic may make User Content available to users of the Site who may display and redistribute it in the same way that National Geographic makes all other Content available.

So summarized: I’m fucked if I agree to the Terms and Conditions, because regardless of the fact that they let me retain all my ownership to what I upload, National Geographic can do whatever the hell they please with my stuff, but National Geographic makes me agree that they allow Users of the Site to do whatever the hell they please with my stuff. That’s in any case how I read the “may make User Content available to users of the site who may display and redistribute it in the same way that National Geographic makes all other Content available”.
So National Geographic may sell User Content as prints or stock (of which profits the User in question doesn’t see a penny of commission), but since National Geographic makes Content available in this way users of the Site may also sell that same Content according to the rules stated by National Geographic.

So how does that sound fair to you? It kinda means that I now co-own my images with National Geographic and every other user of the National Geographic website.
I invite everyone, National Geographic employees included, to explain to me how and where -if I am- I am misunderstanding these rules.

I wrote about hi-contrast black and white late last year, when I shot a picture from the window of my apartment.

I shot a bunch of images from this window (all posted here on the blog), which I figured I could turn into a series I named “Between the corner of the street and the sixth floor” (or in Finnish “Kadun kulman ja kuudennen kerroksen välissä”). Don’t ask… 😉
Anyway… I was missing one image still, and I had some idea about it. And I thought I could implement one of the most cliché things in photography. It was kind of inspired by that court case about copyright infringement which has just been in the news in the UK about the black and white image with the red British bus and the Big Ben in the background (totally stupid, something so moron-ish I thought it could only happen in the US with their farce of a justice system, and all of us photographers could just as well pack up our photography bags and hang them in the trees with an outcome like that, but let’s not get me going, that’ll just ruin my day).

I was looking for people crossing that same pedestrian’s crossing, but in winter, with snow, and dressed (partly) in red.
It’s surprising how many of those are walking around here, I must say. It wasn’t at all hard to get. Hence I ended up with a good number of pictures in just like half an hour or so. Now I’m considering making this a whole new series in itself 😀

Crossing

D700, ISO200, 1/60 sec @ f/8, Nikkor 70-200mm

Crossing

D700, ISO200, 1/125 sec @ f/8, Nikkor 70-200mm

Crossing

D700, ISO200, 1/125 sec @ f/8, Nikkor 70-200mm

Crossing

D700, ISO800, 1/180 sec @ f/8, Nikkor 70-200mm

Now I just have to keep my fingers crossed and hope I won’t be hauled to a UK prison and be dragged into court for copyright infringement. Because that church in the background (which is just outside the visible area) does look a lot like Big Ben. And I gotta say that some of the people in these pictures really do look like a British bus…
But owwell… Let’s see.

Oh, and if you happen to recognize yourself in the picture do drop me a line and I’ll send you a print for free. I didn’t think it was a good idea to yell six floors down and ask if it was ok to take the picture while you were standing in the middle of the road… 😉

I’m sure by now most of you have heard about Google+, right?
After trying and trying, and failing and failing to bring something on the market which could compete with Facebook and Twitter, they’ve come up with Google+. A Facebook clone with an extra feature called Circles or something like that in which you can create groups of your contacts to share specific things with, I think is how it works (though I think you can do something similar already in Facebook, too, so in the end it seems that Google just made something existing with a better and cleaner interface, and is probably going to fail again).

Anyway… I’ve written before about both Facebook and Google and their Terms and Conditions and along the way I’ve written a couple of other pieces in which I warn everyone to always read the small print before signing up and agreeing to anything.

Right now Google+ is still in the “invite-only” stage, and if you get your hands on it, I again stress that you read Google’s Terms and Conditions (which are by the way Google’s GENERAL Terms and Conditions and not only for Google+), because they’re having another go at building a nice little catalog free of use for them. You probably wouldn’t really notice it so much with google mail or using the search engine, but if Google+ is more like Facebook or Twitpic, they will get a handsome amount of imagery uploaded to their servers. And the below quote tells you exactly what they *COULD* do with that content:

11. Content license from you
11.1 You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. This license is for the sole purpose of enabling Google to display, distribute and promote the Services and may be revoked for certain Services as defined in the Additional Terms of those Services.

11.2 You agree that this license includes a right for Google to make such Content available to other companies, organizations or individuals with whom Google has relationships for the provision of syndicated services, and to use such Content in connection with the provision of those services.

11.3 You understand that Google, in performing the required technical steps to provide the Services to our users, may (a) transmit or distribute your Content over various public networks and in various media; and (b) make such changes to your Content as are necessary to conform and adapt that Content to the technical requirements of connecting networks, devices, services or media. You agree that this license shall permit Google to take these actions.

11.4 You confirm and warrant to Google that you have all the rights, power and authority necessary to grant the above license.

They do write that This license is for the sole purpose of enabling Google to display, distribute and promote the Services and may be revoked for certain Services as defined in the Additional Terms of those Services, but you never know where this little bit is conveniently forgotten or overlooked.
So…. Once again, to all of you: READ THE SMALL PRINT BEFORE YOU AGREE!!!

Sooo… in about a month and a half it’s about a year ago I wrote a re-revisited on the Digimarc topic. I was reminded about it, because I got a mail from them that my subscription was going to end. Read that re-revisited for the details on that. Before that I wrote already two other pieces about it.
In that re-revisited I wrote that I would probably do another blog post with the results on the reporting. Well… You haven’t heard from me before, because… there was nothing to report.
I was told that indexing would be done maybe once every 3-6 months on websites where there wasn’t much traffic, and I already expressed my concern in regards to the usability of this reporting service for the photographer hosting his own images on his own site as opposed to on websites with a massive amount of traffic like Getty Images, iStock, or the likes.
I must honestly admit that I haven’t checked the report frequently, but there was no need for it. I was set up with the free pro account to test it out on July 21st 2010, and now, June 3rd 2011, so ten months later, there has been no activity in my account’s report. No images found / indexed. Not a single one. Not even on my own website.
So… Conclusion…
No disrespect towards the great people there, with their excellent customer service and an otherwise good (but not spectacular) product: would I invest in Digimarc Digital Watermarking? No. I wouldn’t.
The one thing that makes this product interesting is exactly the reporting of how and where my images appear. But if the only way to have that reporting working is to get a massive amount of traffic (because those are the websites they primarily target), it doesn’t make any sense to get this as a photographer who doesn’t get x1000 visitors on my website daily (or even weekly). The digital watermarking isn’t as invisible as is portrayed, especially not if you don’t have the high-resolution image available. And personally if I can’t trace back the image with the digital watermark I prefer to have a visible watermark on the image so people don’t steal the images in the first place.
Also the limitation of 2,000 or 5,000 images which you could digitally watermark per year seems to be a bit odd. As a photographer, especially stock and travel photographers, you probably shoot well over that amount of images. You’d have to sign up for the most expensive package for an unlimited amount of images you could watermark.

But anyway… the decision is yours.
I think this topic is closed for all I care 😉

Some time ago I wrote a little something about how Google and Facebook (and then some photo competitions) had some dubious paragraphs in their terms and conditions which allowed them to basically do with what they want with the images you upload to their server/service.
I’ve always been careful to the point of paranoia when it comes to these kind of things, which is why I don’t upload any images (of significance) to for example Facebook, or if I do they are so small (and/or with a big fat watermark across) that no one can do anything with them.
I also don’t have a TwitPic account. Not for that particular reason, although right now that might just become the reason.
Three weeks ago TwitPic has sneakily changed their terms and conditions in regards to the image material uploaded to their website.
Since May 10th they’ve added/modified a paragraph that reads:

You retain all ownership rights to Content uploaded to Twitpic. However, by submitting Content to Twitpic, you hereby grant Twitpic a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform the Content in connection with the Service and Twitpic’s (and its successors’ and affiliates’) business, including without limitation for promoting and redistributing part or all of the Service (and derivative works thereof) in any media formats and through any media channels.

Of course the people who DO read the Terms and keep an eye on what’s changing immediately started demanding some clarification about what the hell is going, after which TwitPic replied the following with a blog post:

We recently made changes to our terms of service that has caused some confusion for our users. First off I want to apologize for that confusion and our lack of clarity. We’ve updated our terms again to be more clear and to also show that you still own your content.

Our goal with Twitpic from the beginning has been to create the best way to share your photos and videos on Twitter and to always keep our user’s best interest at the forefront.

To clarify our ToS regarding ownership, you the user retain all copyrights to your photos and videos, it’s your content. Our terms state by uploading content to Twitpic you allow us to distribute that content on twitpic.com and our affiliated partners. This is standard among most user-generated content sites (including Twitter). If you delete a photo or video from Twitpic, that content is no longer viewable.

As we’ve grown, Twitpic has been a tool for the spread of breaking news and events. Since then we’ve seen this content being taken without permission and misused. We’ve partnered with organizations to help us combat this and to distribute newsworthy content in the appropriate manner. This has been done to protect your content from organizations who have in the past taken content without permission. As recently as last month, a Twitpic user uploaded newsworthy images of an incident on a plane, and many commercial entities took the image from Twitpic and used it without the user’s permission.

To sum everything up, you the user retain all copyrights to your photos/videos and we are very sorry by the confusion our old updated terms of service caused.

So they sneakily emphasize that you DO retain the copyright to all your work, but they fail to inform the users about the deal they made with for example a News Agency.
TwitPic has indeed been known to be the source of a good number of news worthy images, but now it seems that they’ve caught up with the moneymaking machine and are going to cash in on what the users are uploading to their services, without actually compensating the users for it.
Now does that sound fair to you?
If you ARE using TwitPic, make sure you put a big watermark across the image, so that everyone knows that the image they’re looking at is yours.

In 2008 we went to California on holidays. The Better Half is an avid wine lover, and since I’m the perfect driver (as in I don’t drink alcohol, I’m sure my driving isn’t all that perfect 😉 ) it was clear we would drive up to the Californian wine country to visit wineries and to let the Better Half taste all the good stuff. We visited many, she tasted many, and we brought home as much as we could.

Simi Winery was one of them. A beautiful place with lots of history, very nice people and some great experts. We took a tour on the premises, had the expert explain everything and show us around through the production area. Of course I shot a lot of pictures, some good, some better, some just… well… ok…
Lo and behold, about two years later I’m working on a brochure for one of my clients and find that one of my images from the Simi Winery premises was just the image we needed. I made a quick draft of the brochure, put the picture in to show, and everyone agreed that it was a great shot for the page. I did inform the client that I would have to contact the winery, because I didn’t have a property release.
That was all my honesty. The image in itself was so generic, and probably not even recognizable in the way that we were using it (see below for the original and the crop as it was going to be used).

Simi Winery

D200, ISO100, 1/1500 sec @ f/2.8, Tamron 28-75mm

Simi Winery

Edited and cropped as it was planned for use

If I would’ve just put it there, I’m quite positive that no one would ever have bothered. But then… I would want other people to inform me if they were planning to use an image of my property, so… Don’t do unto others…

So I started to (try to) get in touch with them. This was about 3-3,5 months ago. First I checked the Simi Winery website. There was the name of a contact, an email address and a phone number. I sent an email to this address explaining who I was, what I wanted and why. A week passed and there was no sign of life. I sent another mail and waited a couple of days still before I called the number on the website. Hmm… That’s funny… The number I called returned with a message on an answering machine, but the lady talking mentioned a different name than the name on the website. I figured I’d try again later (a good number of late nights involved here, since the time difference is about 10 hours).
I tried again later… a couple of hours later… a couple of days later… called the cellphone number this lady said she would be reachable on if she wasn’t at the office… No reply whatsoever. I left messages on the answering machine. In vain. No sign of life, or confirmation that she got my mails or messages. I sent a mail to another contact person mentioned on the site, from a different department, called that person, but it was the same story. I sent an email straight to Simi Winery, I called Simi Winery, but they didn’t answer either.

I was at a loss as to what to do. I had no doubt that they would let me use the image, since the winery and my client don’t have any conflict of interest or anything. There might even be a good chance that my client actually supplied the material in this image. It was just a courtesy thing for me to ask them.

I kept on checking the phone number for the next two-three weeks and the website, until all of a sudden I noticed that the phone number and name of the contact person had changed on the Simi Winery website. I tried again, a little shimmer of hope shining through. But there was no change, save for the name, the email address and the phone numbers. No one replied to either email or phone or messages that I left on the answering machine. About two months had passed since I first started trying to get in touch with these people.

At some point, I can’t even remember why it came to mind, I thought of switching off the number recognition of my phone number. I called again, but now without sending along my caller ID. I’ll never know if this was actually the reason, but the first time I called without sending my caller ID along, the phone was answered. YAY!
This lady appeared to be a marketing person from Constellation Wines U.S., sort of an umbrella organization representing American wineries and wines. She sounded very suspicious when I told her who I was and what I wanted, and there was nothing in her voice that gave me the idea that she had any idea what I was talking about. After I explained who I was, what I did, why I contacted her and how long I had been trying, she all of a sudden remembered that she indeed had seen my mail and forwarded it 16 days ago to their legal department, because she had no authority to decide whether or I could use the image. If I wanted to inquire any further there was one person whom I could contact and she was happy to give me the contact info.

I didn’t waste any time and straight away called the number, again without sending along my caller ID, and promptly got this lady on the phone. I told her I got her contact info through another person from Constellation Wines U.S. and that this other person had forwarded my mail to them, that I didn’t get a reply yet and if she could please have a look at it. As with the other lady she sounded very suspicious and as with the other lady there was nothing in her voice that gave me the idea that she had any idea what I was talking about. That was especially accentuated by the fact that she told me she didn’t know the other person. Of course Constellation Wines U.S. can be such a big enterprise that people don’t know each other, but even when I spelled out my name and email address and the other lady’s name and email address, she couldn’t find my mail. So she kindly requested me to resend the email to this specific address, so that they could process and archive it with a reference number. And so I did. I included the image and for easy and fast processing I also added my property release form for them to sign.

Dear Ms XXX, 

Following our phone conversation today I'm sending you the request
to use the attached image in a corporate brochure of one of my
clients. The client is XXXXXXXXX . 

This image was shot by me on the premises of Simi Winery in
California in 2008. I am the rightful copyright holder, but
since the Winery is private property I kindly request your
permission to use the image in the aforementioned brochure. 

To speed up the process I've attached a property release form
for my archives. If you allow me to use the image, please fill
in and sign the form and return it to me. 

In return I can make available a number of images I shot on the
Simi Winery premises for you to use free of charge in promotional
material for Simi Winery if credit line © www.arnoenzerink.com is
used. 

Looking forward to your response. 

If you want to contact me by phone, you can reach me on my cell:
011 358 -- --- ----. Do keep in mind that I'm based in Finland, so
it's 10 hours later here. 

--- 

Kind regards,

The reply came very fast, totally against my expectations after having to wait and follow-up and try to get people on the phone. The next day I was in for a big SHOCKER. My kind request was denied.

Dear Mr. Enzerink,

Thank you for taking the time to contact us at Simi Winery Consumer
Relations. We appreciate hearing from you.

The information and picture you sent have been reviewed by our team.
Thank you for your interest in Simi. However, we respectfully decline
your request. 

If I may be of any assistance in the future, please feel free to
contact me at 1-800-XXX-XXXX Ext. 7XXX4, 7:30am - 5:00pm PT
Monday - Thursday and 7:30am - 12:00pm PT Friday.

Sincerely,

I was dumbfounded. Speechless. I absolutely didn’t see this coming.
There was no reason for the rejection stated, so I sent an email back kindly requesting the reason for rejection. As I mentioned before Simi Winery and my client have no common economical grounds, there’s no competition, no market share, nothing. The image as it was going to be used didn’t refer in any way to Simi Winery, nor could it be recognized by anyone as such, and in the text there wouldn’t be any reference to company or location. I had no clue as to why I wouldn’t be able to use this image.
Days passed. I resent the email to no avail. I called this lady again (I forgot had switched back on the sending of my caller ID), but all I got was the answering machine. A couple of days ago I tried again and remembered to switch off the sending of my caller ID. Of course I will never know if this was actually the reason 😉 but the phone was promptly answered and when I said who I was I could hear the annoyance in the voice of the lady. I told her I sent her an email a couple of times asking a reason for why my request was denied and she said she had forwarded the mail to the legal department three times, only to get a reply that this reference number was already processed. I asked her to once more inquire about it and I think she said “I would” only to get off the phone. I now know the sound of “Good Riddance” in a voice, and it’s not pretty, no matter how friendly it’s brought.

I did, however, promptly got a mail back the next day:

Dear Mr. Enzerink,

We thank you again for your continued interest, but again I must
reiterate that your request has been denied.

If I may be of any assistance in the future, please feel free to
contact me at 1-800-XXX-XXXX Ext. 7XXX4, 7:30am - 5:00pm PT
Monday - Thursday and 7:30am - 12:00pm PT Friday.

Sincerely,

Which was basically a copy-paste from the first mail and STILL didn’t give me a reason for why my request was denied. I sent her a mail again, with exactly that, stating that there still wasn’t a reason for why my request was rejected and kindly suggested that if she didn’t think she would get a different reply from their legal department, she’d pass on their contact info to me so I would call them directly.

I’m not expecting a reply to that anymore and I don’t think I feel like calling her again and listen to that “Shit, it’s that annoying foreigner again” voice.

Moral of the story?
Some day honesty and friendliness will pay off, although it is not this day…

I’m part of the Worth1000 community and a couple of years ago I participated in a Surf and Turf competition for which the idea was to combine a land animal and sea animal into one being. Lots of hilarious things come out of that. Mine was called the Seahound and it looked like this:

Seahound

Seahound

Courtesy obligates me to mention that neither of the two images I used to create the above one were made by me. See below for the two sources. I have no way of retracing who the original photographers of these pictures were. I found them through a Google search when I came up with the idea of making a Seahound. Uses like this, non-commercial, supposedly fall under the creative commons license, meaning (in short) that, as long as the user doesn’t sell the derivative image onwards and doesn’t use it for commercial purposes, it is okay to use the source images. This image ended up 8th (out of 73) in the contest, with seven even more hilarious ones going first.

Seahound sources

Seahound sources

Occasionally I do a Reverse Image Search on my work (typically the stuff that IS my own and COULD be used commercially) through Tineye and see if anything comes up. Several times something did come up, but nothing close to the results that were returned on this particular image. Together with a good number of other images from this competition it came up on a wide variety of sites, among which websites that sell backgrounds for cellphones and such.

Dilemma, then. What to do?
This is my image, I created it. But it it’s not completely my image, because I used source images that aren’t my own. Should I pursue this? Should I find out what I can do about it? Someone out there IS making money of images that aren’t his/her.
Kind of frustrating it is. And the biggest problem is that most likely the servers that host these images are based in some obscure country where the laws in these matters aren’t taken too seriously. And if for whatever miraculous reason they would reply to emails, or if for whatever miraculous reason the websites would be taken down, then they would simply set up another website within a couple of days.
Carrying water to the sea, that would be.

So… as you’ve noticed before in some of my posts I’m a big fan of Jim Carrey, and I’ll quote that favorite quote of mine from Liar Liar again:

…so what I am going to do is piss and moan like an impotent jerk, and then bend over and take it up the tailpipe!

This has been standing in my draft queue for quite some time now. It wasn’t quite done yet, and there were a couple of things I needed to check first, but here we go then (a couple of days mentioned below isn’t quite accurate anymore, that’s a month and a half or so ago by now 😉 )

Wow… I’m getting the feeling I’m being watched 😉

A couple of days ago I revisited my Digimarc experience and I wrote how I was contacted by Ms Gina Giachetti, representing Digimarc, and asked if I wanted to blog about the new Digimarc.
I wasn’t too keen at first to write about it, since my first experience with Digimarc wasn’t all that spectacular, but Ms Giachetti promised to put me in touch with a product manager to “talk things over”. For some reason that went all south because of a miscommunication, as it now appears: holidays from both sides (I had no idea Digimarc was located in Oregon, otherwise I could’ve stopped by the office in March when I was in Oregon!), busy time schedules, etc. etc.

Anyway… I posted the revisited the 28th in the morning, and that same day in the evening there’s a mail from Ms Giachetti waiting in my inbox. Yep, things had gone all south, and that wasn’t how it was supposed to be. So we gave it a second try and last Wednesday she set me up in a telephone conversation with Digimarc’s product manager Ben Bounketh. Very agreeable guy, I must say (I’m also not getting paid to say this, dang! 😀 ). We had a really interesting conversation in which he told me a bit more about Digimarc in general and more specifically about the watermarking process and product. I’m not going to repeat that all here, so you’ll have to head on to the Digimarc website. And -I already mentioned in my first post about Digimarc that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with their customer service- he set me up with a free Pro account for a year for me to test the new product. Wow! 🙂

Mr Bounketh presented me with a little video on how the new Digimarc Watermarking would be really imperceptible. And no matter how nice he sounded, my first reaction was “Sure, that’s a generic picture, the OLD watermarking would even work on that. You’re not getting off that easily with me!” So… You all probably remember the jellyfish picture I put my test on? That was the OLD method. Ghastly… Autch!

Digimarc watermark examples: left without watermark, right with watermark

Digimarc watermark examples: left without watermark, right with watermark

So I thought, let’s see how Mr Bounketh’s statement will hold up in this image.

Digimarc watermark examples: left without watermark, right with watermark

Digimarc watermark examples: left without watermark, right with watermark

And well… Kudos, Mr Bounketh. Kudos to you and Digimarc. Compared to the old version this is a world of difference. Where you could see the obvious difference in the first example, even without the need to view full, in the second example I had to enlarge the areas to show the difference, and even then you can’t see it without looking at the full view.
When looking at a 4000+ pixels image at 100% you can see some slight noise in these even areas, but the quality of the images with watermark has improved so much that you can’t even really make a decent comparison anymore.
I’d still be a bit reluctant uploading images with an even background like this in full resolution to for example a stock agency, but for the “normal” images, with a more diverse and detailed background it will be no problem whatsoever, and for web images it will be perfect.

The watermark itself is pretty solid in terms of durability. I put the watermark in a 4000+ pixels image, downscaled in stages and in one go to 300pixels and only at that point was the watermark not found anymore. Upscaling and cropping the same story.
However… as with all editing with images you ARE supposed to do it in the hi-res version, and when I tested adding the watermark to a lower res version it came out with the same ghastly result. So added in a 4000 pixel image and then scaled down to 800 pixels is perfectly acceptable, but adding the watermark straight to the 800 pixels picture is a big no-no (still). When presenting this issue to Mr Bounketh, he did give a plausible explanation. In short and super-simplified something along the lines of the watermark having to be hidden in less available pixels).

Jellyfish comparison

Left the image in which the watermark was added at 800 pixels, right the image where it was added at 4000 pixels and then downscaled to 800 pixels (click to enlarge).

I can’t say anything on the reporting and scouting/tracking of images, yet. That will take some time, but I’m going to upload a batch of generic images with Digimarc watermark to my website and see if they are picked up and where they end up. Mr Bounketh did explain a little on how the searching and “tracking” works. He also noted that, because of the time and costs involved, at this point only larger sites with a lot of traffic will be scanned/indexed on a regular basis.  I’m not really sure if it will be super useful for (starting) artists who don’t have much traffic to their website, since those websites would be scanned/indexed only like once per 3-6 months. But since the price has gone down and the scouting/tracking is included in that price, there’s little to do about it anyway.
I’m happily testing away now, and I’ll probably do a re-re-revisited in a year or so, or if/when I get some data in on the scouting/tracking.

A year and a half or so ago I wrote a piece about Digimarc Digital Watermarking. Back then I had tried the service and wasn’t all that happy with the results, especially not with the price tag that came with it. I never looked back, and I still think that the best way to protect your images is with a big fat watermark dead center.
Occasionally I look at the stats for of my blog and on structural basis I see people having searched for Digimarc ending up here.

The surprise was when in mid February of this year I received a mail from a lady called Gina Giachetti, sent from a gmail address, who apparently is responsible for the pr stuff at Digimarc. In the mail she addresses me with my first name. I don’t find that a real problem in itself, and I don’t require anyone to call me Sir, but for courtesy’s sake she could’ve at least introduced herself and not pretend like she’s known me for 10 years already (and save me the trouble of Googling her to find out who on earth SHE was).
Anyway… She writes me that Digimarc has released 3 new editions of their products and that the prices have gone down. Furthermore she hopes that, as a blogger that reaches the photography and digital imaging community, I will share this information with my readers.

So my blog has been getting an daily average of a whopping 20-30 unique visitors, with some rare peeks if I write something really funny or stupid, so I had my doubts if the reason of her contacting me was truly just her hope of me sharing that new information about Digimarc. What I actually believe is that she found out that if you search for “Digimarc watermarking” in Google the fifth search result on the first page is my blog post, and that’s not really the best marketing / sales post you could imagine.

So I wrote her back that I’ve had previous experience with Digimarc Watermarking and that I wasn’t really all that happy with the service and it’s quite against my principles to promote and support products that I don’t support myself. But that of course I’m happy to talk to an executive or representative and if they can prove to me that the service indeed has approved I would gladly share the information.
I promptly receive a reply from Ms Giachetti in which she writes, among others, the following:

If you like, I’d be happy to arrange for you to speak with a Digimarc executive, and provide you with a way to try out the new technology for yourself. Let me know if that interests you and I’ll see what I can do.

So, wow, try the new technology out for myself, eh? That sounds cool! 🙂 So I tell her sure, I wouldn’t mind testing the new technology and see if it got any better. It takes a week for her to reply this time, after which she apologizes for the delay because of busy schedules. But we’re still on for a talk with an executive, she has someone and we only have to arrange a time to talk.

I inform her with my schedule, we compare and come to the conclusion that around this day, around this time, would be the best for both parties. After that I haven’t heard anything anymore, nor seen any sign of life. I wonder…

So at this point I’m not sure what the service really does. I haven’t used the new version, nor seen it in action, so for all I care you still get a non-working service, only they made it $400 cheaper. To which I say: a $99 product which isn’t working, still is too expensive.