Who took that? Finding images online

Since browsing began I have been collecting images I have found online. Everything from humor to teaching material has ended up being stored and transferred between computers. Since hard disks keep getting bigger this has never been a problem. Unfortunately there is a problem when I want to use the images I have found – legally. In many situations the photographer is unknown. Sometimes, but very rarely, the image filename includes a clue to the photographers identity.

For photographers the problem is related but different. It is important for them to be able to find out where and who is using their photographs without permission.

One solution many of us have been waiting for is image search engines. The idea is that you upload an image that is then searched for on the whole web. It’s google images but using an image as a search term. The closest example of this today is the search engine Tineye but it needs to be developed. It now has a limited database of about 1.2 billion images (Facebook, Photobucket and Flickr alone combine for over 18 billion images).

But Plagiarism Today reports some good news in this area. Corrigon is a new version of this image search. You upload images to Corrigon these are added to their database while the service then crawls the Web, looking for matching images.

What makes Corrigon unusual is that it doesnโ€™t store the images, but rather, fingerprints them and compares the fingerprint against other matches it finds on the Web. This is very similar to what C-registry.us is doing with its matching technology. However, where C-Registry is more geared toward preventing works from becoming orphans, Corrigon is more about image search (though C-Registry has added image search)

So there is some slow progress in this area. Maybe someone at google will come along and develop a simple, elegant and easily available service as a complement to the basic search.

A variation to this problem is the mass of images I take myself. Here the problem is not that I am unable to use my own pictures but rather that I cannot find the one image I know I am looking for. It’s there somewhere but with so many thousands of images it may as well be lost forever. Don’t know how this could be resolved without a massive identifying and tagging effort on my part.

Protesting change

Journalists and photographers in the United Kingdom are preparing a protest on the 16th February. The object of their protests is a new law that allows for the arrest – and potential imprisonment – of anyone who takes pictures of police officers ‘likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism’. If found guilty the result could be imprisonment for up to 10 years.

The Home Office argues that the Terrorism Act 2000 already makes it an offence to ‘collect or make a record of information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism’ and that the new law will not change anything. However, photographers fear that the Counter-Terrorism Act will, by explicitly mentioning constables, give more power to police officers to stop photographers, including press photographers, from taking pictures in public places.

Read more about this and how to participate at the British Journal of Photography.

Another photographer arrested in London

The UK has adopted and intepreted the silliest anti-terrorist laws – they have created a state of paranoia which is hard for any sensible person to explain or understand.

The Independent reports that artist and photographer Ruben Powell was arrested last week his photographing of the old HMSO print works close to the local police station posed an unacceptable security risk.

For Powell, this brush with the law resulted in five hours in a cell after police seized the lock-blade knife he uses to sharpen his pencils. His release only came after the intervention of the local MP, Simon Hughes, but not before he was handcuffed and his genetic material stored permanently on the DNA database.

The Independent gives even more examples of people who have run afoul of the strangest intepretation of misguided security. Not only are phographers being seen as suspicious in one way or another. Another sad thing is that the data is stored permanently in the DNA database even when no crime has been committed.

Security is a bad joke creating a social paranoia beyond belief. Common sense has been suspended and seems to be nowhere in sight.

Support a photography project

I read about this photography project on Boing Boing and thought it was worth the advert on this blog. Giving alternative groups of people access to photographic technology leads to the production of exciting new material.

Los Angeles-based photographer and blogger Dave Bullock says:

The Skid Row Photography Club‘s first show, The Beauty of the Street, premiered last Thursday during the Downtown Art Walk. The participants were ecstatic to see their beautiful work on the walls and the hundreds of people who came into the gallery loved what they saw.The SPRC started as an idea I “borrowed” from the movie Born Into Brothels . I wrote a proposal to the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council to buy digital cameras which we then gave to people living in Skid Row. I gave the participants brief lessons in composition and turned them loose. For the last six months we’ve met every Tuesday at UCEPP in Skid Row.

During that time they shot over 20,000 photos between them. An amazing body of work ranging from flowers to architecture to a man defecating in the middle of the street.

Dave asks if any Boing Boing readers might want to donate digital cameras to folks living in Skid Row, so they might extend the project. “The cameras we’ve been using are about $200 each,” he explains. “We’re just a club, not a non-profit as of yet.”

More info here on how you can participate. The short version: if you would like to donate digital cameras please email Dave directly at eecue@eecue.com.

Skid Row, in case you don’t know, is a massive, permanent homeless encampment in downtown Los Angeles — the largest such community in the United States. About 8-9,000 homeless people live there. This “heat map animation” provides a compelling visualization of the site, though data hasn’t been updated in a while.

Copyright in Strange Arts

There is a wonderful argument between photographers being conducted over at Shutterstock. The argument is over whether or not photographers need release permission from graffiti artists to make sure they have the right to reproduce their copyrighted material.

The basic argument is well represented by comments such as:

I don’t think that graffiti need an “artist” (LOL) agreement for a reproduction. By definition it’s a public domain like piece of used gum on a sidewalk ๐Ÿ™‚

I didn’t need a release for the grafitti photo’s I uploaded here. And I agree about it’s illegal to paint the walls, so the artists have no rights on their art.

A lone brave photographer Hilary Quinn is facing a barrage of angry photographers and trying to teach them the ins and outs of copyright law. But I couldn’t resist joining in. Unfortunately I needed to log into Shutterstock to be allowed to participate so I decided to fill in my arguments here since the log in procedure took too long.

Some of the arguments may have appeared here earlier in other versions.

First let me just get the artist debate out of the way. Some people feel annoyed by the term graffiti “artist”. I am not bothered. The way in which you choose to express yourself artistically is your own problem. There are artists who dabble in oils who do not deserve the term. It is not an honor to be termed artist – it is a designation of intent. By the way not too long ago it was considered unimaginable to call a photographer an artist.

1. Illegal activity and copyright

It does not matter whether or not you break into a building to paint a work of art. It does not matter if you steal the oils or other materials to create a work of art. It does not matter if you steal a camera to take a photograph. In each case copyright resides with the creator. Naturally in all cases the person may be prosecuted for his/her actions. But even if he/she is found guilty he/she still retains copyright in the work.

2. Who owns the work?

I would risk theory that the owner of property (wall) should have the copyright ๐Ÿ™‚

The owner of the wall owns the original work. He/she has the right to destroy or sell it. A recent wall painted on by grafitti artist Banksy was sold on ebay for over 200 000 GBP. But the owner of the wall does not have the right to make reproductions of the work without permission from the artist.

3. Tattoos

I have written earlier about tattoos and copyright and highly recommend Hatcher’s article (2007). But the short version is that their is copyright in tattoos. The question is who the owner is? The artist? the person sporting the tattoo? the tattoo parlour? or the original artist if the tattoo is a copy of someone elses work? In addition to this there is an interesting question as to whether a collection of tattoos on the body can be seen as a work of art – like a collage.

What a great Friday afternoon argument!