report

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Last summer, when I finished the education at Rocky Mountain School of Photography, I decided to sign up with Digimarc. We had endless discussions about how the web is the perfect place to grab images without paying for them and several of our teachers had been in the situation where they -by accident or not- found out that a company had used their images without permission. So we talked about how to prevent those kind of things from happening and which ways were the best ways to go.

Digimarc was one of the ways. Digimarc has created a plug-in for (among others) Photoshop where you can incorporate an invisible digital watermark uniquely registered to you.
I signed up for it.
And with that, I also signed up for the tracking report, which supposedly tracks down your images with that unique digital watermark on the internet. It cost me a whopping $499, but hey! If it would get me to chase people who use my images without permission, I might be able to claim that money back from them, right?

So I started using the plug-in and Digimarc them with my own unique invisible digital watermark.
The first thing I noticed was that this Digimarc is everything but flawless.

It’s very sensitive when it comes to certain color combinations in regards to visibility. When used with certain kinds of images, there’s a whole issue about how it changes the pixels. Not that you actually get to see your unique digital watermark, but see below what I mean (you might have to click on the image to check the bigger view in order to see the difference clearly):

Digimarc watermark examples: left without watermark, right with watermark

Digimarc watermark examples: left without watermark, right with watermark

Digimarc watermark examples: left without watermark, right with watermark

Digimarc watermark examples: left without watermark, right with watermark

So as long as there’s a busy background with many different structures and colors you don’t really see it (you will if you know where to look, but anyway…). However, if you have an even background the “invisible” digital watermark completely screws up the image.

And then there’s the tracking report function. That’s the thing I paid $499 for.
I have a vague memory of one of our teachers telling he tried it, but it didn’t really work for him.
I figured it couldn’t be that bad, but I guess I should’ve listened.

After two months of being subscribed to the service there was no mention in the tracking report of finding any of my images anywhere. Not even on my own website.
I wrote a mail to helpdesk and asked what the usual time was before images were tracked. They told be to have a bit more patience, that it could take anywhere from 2-6 months.
Fair enough, I thought. The internet is a big place, many websites to crawl through.
So I let time pass. I let six months pass. And according to the report the service still hadn’t found any images. I let seven months pass and still no images were found. I let one more month pass just for good faith, but when the tracking report still came back with zero found images I decided it was time again to ask for some explanation.

“This does seem out of the ordinary that our search engine has not been able to locate any of your images if they are not posted within password-protected sites, web pages behind firewalls, Flash-based galleries or database-driven websites that are not open for spiders to crawl.”

My own website only has a flash opening page, but the portfolio is pure HTML / CSS only. Coded it myself, so I know.
Then they wanted me to send some straight links to my images, so their vendor could do a direct search. So I sent them a stack of links directly to my images, on my own website, on this blog, on Imageshack and on another website still.
And again I let time pass. I let one week pass. Two weeks, three weeks… And when after four weeks the tracking report still hadn’t reported any of my images, at all, not even from the straight links that I sent them, I found it well enough. I found I had been sufficiently patient.

So I wrote a mail to helpdesk again in which I kindly told them I paid $499 for a service which was supposed to track images on the internet where I couldn’t find them and that it couldn’t be the idea of the service that the customer supplied links to where to find the images. That I found my patience had been enough after over nine months of nothing and that I thought a reimbursement of the invested $499 was in place.

And even though the tracking service didn’t function properly (or actually, not at all), the customer service does deserve a compliment, because they made no issue whatsoever out of my reimbursement request and the lady told me she’d arrange things with their finance department.
(Now I just hope that it won’t turn out to be a second Rodale where I have to chase after my money for a year).

But anyway… Conclusions of the story:
1) Digital watermarking sucks, it destroys your images
2) Digimarc’s tracking service needs a lot of work before it actually functions
3) Don’t always second guess your teachers, sometimes they actually CAN be right (sorry David 😉 )
4) Best way to protect your images? Big fat visibly transparent watermark right in the center of the image.