There is an imminent threat to all artists, art galleries and photographers that have been using watermarks to protect images with a commercial value.
Images have become bigger and increased in importance within the web. The emphasis is on images looking good and helping people navigate the web (if you like this - then how about more like this?)
For all those artists using watermarks to protect their images - you need to be aware that Google has worked out HOW TO REMOVE THEM! It recently presented its findings at the presented at the Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition Conference. (Why they think they have the legal ability to alter your image without your permission and reproduce it is anybody's guess!)
Below is the video produced to explain the CVPR 2017 paper "On the Effectiveness of Visible Watermarks". It also explains that they worked out how to remove the vulnerability of images to this sort of watermark removal process.
However the good news is that the guys at Shutterstock are really not at all impressed with having their revenue model upended in one fell swoop (surprise, surprise!). They have now reverse engineered the new algorithm to prevent Google (or anybody else) from removing a watermark that is now unique to every picture which, in turn, makes watermark removal for secure.
What they've done is worked out how to make each watermark unique by marginally changing part of each watermark - for example by including the name of the photographer.
The same issue applies to artists - and what artists need to do is to work out how they can make their own watermarks more robust and incapable of removal using the algorithm so helpfully explained by Google!
My best guess is that this will need to involve doing something along the lines of what Shutterstock have done.
My recommendation is that artists should consider citing the title and their trade name (abbreviated in necessary) within each individual and unique watermark.
I predict this whole watermark thing will become BIG and there will be much scratching of heads by artists using watermarks!
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I've just been updating my Insurance for Art and Artists page for the 1,000 year flood in Houston.
Those who already know it, will know that I do case study features to show what happens when the "these things always happen to somebody else - not me" event actually happens! The case studies feature
The situation in Houston
What's really interesting is that most of art museums seem to have learned the lesson from Superstorm Sandy - which saw art galleries in the Chelsea area of New York flooded and lots of stock lost and the galleries closed for a significant time while plaster and floors were ripped out and the interior was reinstated.
The art groups seem to have thought through what to do. Or have moved very fast since. There's now an Emergency Resources for Artists in Houston Google Spreadsheet that can be found here
Not so the artists. I've seen a number on social media who have lost their studios - and never ever anticipated they would be affected by flooding. Sadly I gather some/many are also not insured for flooding.
Has your art group thought about to respond to an emergency?
The time to think about how best to respond to an emergency is BEFORE it happens. It's called "risk management".
Will your studio survive a major flood?
Have you thought what you would do if your studio was destroyed along with your equipment, materials and stock of artwork?
Do you insure your art business for unexpected and catastrophic events?
Have you even thought about you might need to insure for? (You may be surprised).
I RECOMMEND you have
A court has determined that online stores, such as Zazzle, that manufacture products cannot enjoy the "safe harbor" benefits of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), 17 U.S.C. §512 normally made available to online service providers - to the extent that they satisfy required conditions.
This is due to the fact that Zazzle has a responsibility to control the production of merchandise for sale and ensure that it does not infringe copyright.
Below I try to tease out the key elements of the case and why the plaintiff succeeded in getting a a ruling that the plaintiff (an agent for an artist) can recover $460,000 in pecuniary damages from Zazzle.
The 'safe harbor' protection is only afforded to those who contend that they only operate as a publishing platform ONLINE. (Which is why Facebook is safe from prosecution). The notion is that an online publishing platform cannot be aware of everything posted 100% of the time.
However the protection only applies if a site immediately takes action to remove any copyright infringements as soon as it is made aware of them and has received appropriate proof of infringement. (which is why you need to serve a DMCA notice on the host if you see an image of yours online - see What to do about copyright infringement - for artists).
What's different about this court decision
What's different about this court decision is it states that when publication of images by an online platform moves into the production of tangible goods based on those images then the online service provider has the right and responsibility to protect creators from copyright infringement and hence can also become liable for any copyright infringement.
In other words in order for Zazzle to be protected by the DMCA's safe harbor provisions (relating to storing images of GYP's copyrighted paintings) - the provisions of 17 U.S. Code § 512 - Limitations on liability relating to material online required that Zazzle had to:
For the record, this is the Zazzle Copyright Policy. I'm guessing it might be rewritten by the lawyers in the future to pass liability for any costs awarded against Zazzle to the user - and make this explicit to every user of Zazzle.
This judgement has very considerable ramifications for:
Interestingly there is no press release about the Court Judgement on the Zazzle website and no blog post either. I'm unclear as to whether there is going to be an appeal although I understand the level of damages are likely to be contested further.
In effect, the court sets up a double standard: physical vs. digital. Zazzle is protected if users upload infringing images but not if customersdecide they want a copy of this image on a t-shirt or poster.
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Katherine Tyrrell writes about art, artists and the art business and has followers all over the world. She also delivers workshops for art organisations and reviews websites and career strategies for artists.
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