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March 1, 2019

The Underlying Issue: The Truth About User Generated Content

Image formats to date have offered very little in terms of copyright protection.

By CBR Staff Writer

User generated content, for some, is the best thing about the internet. Memes, viral clips, social media posts—the internet provides a great platform for user generated content to reach a massive audience, writes Rob Sewell, CEO, SmartFrame.


Rob Sewell

Part of their appeal – and their popularity – is the ability to enrich content visually with images. However, there’s a common misconception that the internet is a space where images can be freely used and reshared without asking for the owner’s permission. This behavior has been incredibly damaging for enterprises and photographers alike, with copyrighted images and work being widely infringed online.

A lack of proper education and effective enforcement has made rampant copyright infringement on the web a serious problem—and one for which we need to start finding solutions.

Readily Available Content, Ready To Be Taken

The EU’s controversial copyright directive, (particularly articles 11 and 13, which are set to restrict the sharing of news links and memes online), has dominated headlines in recent months, with the proposed update to copyright laws igniting new debates about copyright’s role in the internet age.

Critics were quick to label the directive as “the death of memes”, and big tech companies lined up to speak out against the legislation and the restrictions they are set to impose — Google issued a public warning saying that “overall online news diversity will be impacted”, and YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, posted a vlog calling for the site’s creators to protest against the proposed copyright changes as it will lead to having content from a small number of large companies.

Regardless of these opinions, these proposed laws are trying to address the very real issue of copyright infringement on the internet. Not many would argue against the importance of copyright, and yet big tech companies still show little interest in enforcing it online. On the contrary, they actively enable copyright infringement by hosting unregulated user generated content on their platforms and protesting EU laws that aim to change this.

The model of user generated content shows no signs of going away anytime soon—so what can businesses large and small do to protect the copyright of their images online? Rather than waiting for the big industry change that seems, for now, far off, businesses must take matters into their own hands to protect their copyrighted images online.

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Fighting Tech With Tech

The rampant copyright abuse that results from the current model of user generated content is very much an example of the internet disrupting a traditional media sector, but it most definitely isn’t the first or only one. Early evolution of the internet saw the prospect of unauthorized content sharing and streaming pose a serious threat to the music and film industries. These industries quickly recognized these threats and jumped to action, striking deals with tech companies and launching their own premium streaming platforms that eventually became the norm for consumers. To stop disruption from technological changes, the music and film industries realised that rather than fight it, they would have to develop their own technological solutions.

A unified infrastructure that could prevent copyright infringement of images online has so far failed to materialize. There are things, however, that individual enterprises can do right now to fight tech with tech, just as the music and film industries did, and properly protect the copyright of their images.

Image formats to date have offered very little in terms of copyright protection and are easily downloaded, right clicked, copied and pasted, and consumed. Imagine if you could do that with a film, or a music track! Apart from the technical challenges of doing so, encoding, serving, downloading and decoding these files is a laborious process to go through just to pirate music and film. Digital Rights Management, licensing and copyright technology have now added significantly more protection – and value – to these works. But not so for the photography industry.

The principal step is to change the way images are being published online entirely. I see this as the main challenge to any kind of copyright enforcement online, shifting the paradigm to more secure alternatives to JEPG must be something the industry should be seriously considering.

Encrypted image formats can block screenshots and right clicks as well grant image owners more control through a virtualized control panel that gives the options to update, edit or revoke images at any time, from anywhere they are hosted on the internet.

As well as giving enterprises more control and security, alternative image formats can be leveraged to create new types of revenue, through embedding of advertisements and monetized links into images. Taking these kinds of steps will help enterprises transition from losing money from copyright infringement toward fully monetizing and generating new revenue streams from online images.

These kinds of positive actions will help enterprises further adjust their business models to the format of the internet, something that’s essential in generating revenue now, and increasingly for the future.

The JPEG image format is so familiar and by far the most widely used on the internet, but it’s the equivalent of putting .wav and .mov files on the internet for anyone to download, share and play. That’s just crazy. JPEG isn’t the only online image format available, and all enterprises need to recognize this.

The Business Case for Enforcing Copyright Online

While the internet and the user generated content that comes with it has significantly transformed the debate about copyright infringement and enforcement, the age-old business cases for properly maintaining and upholding copyright laws remain the same.

A recent EU report found that 28% of all jobs in the EU (60 million) can be directly attributed to IPR-intensive industries, and 42% of the total economic activity (GDP) in the EU is attributable to IPR-intensive industries, worth EUR 5.7 trillion. Protecting copyright and IP is essential for business but doing so is being made increasingly difficult by online habits like user generated content that disregard copyright laws and conventions.

With web giants in no rush to help, the time is now for enterprises to take advantage of the more secure alternative image formats to JPEG that grant the powers to effectively monetize, track and protect images online.

See Also: Android Gets FIDO2 Support: Death to Passwords?

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