Monday, October 03, 2005
COPYRIGHT: AP feature on Digimarc's digital-watermark technology (fwd)
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED October, 10, 1997
By the Associated Press
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - Theft on the Internet is as easy a mouse click.
Just ask World Wide Web-site designer Gary Shade, who has found 10 other Web
sites displaying his custom images.
The problem is endemic on the Internet: Digital technology allows for perfect
reproductions of images. And once an image is posted on the World Wide Web,
it can be downloaded by anyone, anywhere, anonymously. Publishers say it's
nearly impossible to enforce copyright laws on the Internet.
But Digimarc Corp. has a solution. Its PictureMarc product embeds an
indelible ``watermark'' into electronic images and files. And its MarcSpider
tracks down every computer that downloads the image, and reports back to the
``It's an incredible way to protect yourself on the Internet,'' said Anthony
Lupo, a Washington-based attorney who specializes in Internet law. ``The
hardest thing is finding out where infringements are. MarcSpider takes care
The secret is ``noise'' - embedding a pattern into the image that's
imperceptible to the human eye but readily detected by PictureMarc or a
simple electronic scanner.
Creator Geoffrey Rhoads, a physicist and amateur photographer, devised a way
to photograph deep-space objects with near perfection. He found that by
removing the light refraction and distortion - or visual noise - caused by
Earth's atmosphere, he could match the quality of photos coming from the
Hubble space telescope.
But his copyright images began appearing on magazine covers and other
people's Web pages without permission or attribution. The problem prompted
Rhoads to tweak the concept of noise: If he could remove it, he could add it.
Fifteen patents later, the 2-year-old company has exclusive agreements with
software companies such as Adobe Systems Inc. and the backing of investors
such as AVI Venture Capital and Softbank Corp., Japan's largest computer
``We are bundled in 90 percent of digital-imaging software being shipped
worldwide today,'' said Larry Logan, director of creative marketing.
The watermark technology can be applied to photographs, printed material,
graphics, video and security products. It even can be used in car paint.
The company regularly gets calls from investors, and from businesses
unrelated to high technology who think the technology could help them.
``The patents are so broad our challenge is always keeping focus,'' Logan
For now, the focus is on stock photo and art agencies. Digimarc has attracted
alliances with large media companies such as Playboy Enterprises, 20th
Century Fox and Chrysler Corp. Soon, the technology is expected to show up in
browsers - the software programs that allow people to look at the Web.
Lupo said litigation can cost $25,000 to $75,000 for people without the
registered copyrights who have to prove damages. That's on top of proving
they own the original images, and it doesn't include attorney's fees.
With Digimarc, he said, ``you've given your attorney a phenomenal case''
because the image has an indelible imprint proving its source, and the
copyright is registered. The copyright holder is automatically entitled to
$250,000 to $500,000 dollars per infringement.
Shade said the watermark helped his company, Minnesota-based Shade's Landing,
avoid litigation. ``It just scared the devil out of'' the thief in the one
case in which he had the watermark.
Digimarc insists, however, its goal isn't to police the Internet. It wants to
Market research revealed that out of all the Internet theft, only 20 percent
was intentional. The other 80 percent was done in ignorance or for lack of
information that would allow the infringer to contact the source for
When a person begins to download an image to a personal computer, a warning
sign appears saying it's a copyright image. But it also provides a link to
Digimarc's Web page. Digimarc, in turn, provides links to the artists' Web
pages as well as a fax-back service.
The watermark can't be marred by cutting up the image, either. The watermark
is embedded in every pixel. It's almost like digital DNA.
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