App Lets Photographers Prove Ownership Of Their Photos

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Stop the steal, indeed

Key Takeaways

–> Capture only permits one copy of a photo to exist at any time.
–> The blockchain can be used to authenticate images, and to prove they haven’t been tampered with.
–> Artists and creators can finally prove they authored a work.

Capture from Numbers Protocol is an app that could make stealing copyrighted images impossible. Or, at least, it will let you prove that they were stolen.

If you’re a photographer, how do you prove an image is yours? It’s possible to register the image’s copyright, but that can be impractical. Instead, Capture uses blockchain technology to identify your images, no matter how far and wide they are shared. Could this stop copyright theft?

“At Numbers, our goal is always to create tools to help users preserve the integrity of photos and potentially change the way people consume information on news and social media platforms,” Ethan Wu, community manager at Numbers told Lifewire via direct message.

Blockchain

A blockchain is a kind of digital chain of authentication. It’s what allows digital currencies like Bitcoin to exist. Using a photograph as an example, it works like this: Every time a photo is copied (when you share it, for instance), this “transaction” is recorded as a “block.” The new block also contains the encrypted identity of the previous block. These link all the way back to the original, in a chain. Hence the name.

“In the future, we may extend support to other trusted photo platforms.”

This means that you cannot tamper with a block. Or you can, but it is easy to spot. “This is because once recorded, the data in any given block cannot be altered retroactively without alteration of all subsequent blocks,” according to Wikipedia.

Applied to original creative works, this allows copying as usual, but you can also prove that these copies came from the original. The catch is that you have to take the photo using the Capture app—the digital “watermark” has to be included at the point of creation.

Copyright For The People

Copyright is supposed to protect creators from theft and exploitation. We understand the principle on a gut level: If you paint a picture, take a photo, write a story, or design a graphic, then nobody else is allowed to copy that and sell it.

But in practice, copyright does almost nothing to help individual creators. Disney pushes lawmakers to continually extend copyright terms on works that are themselves based on public-domain works, and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is routinely abused to silence unwanted criticism. But for regular people, copyright is useless.

For instance, what do you do if a large fashion retail chain uses your design on a t-shirt? Even if you can prove it’s your design, you probably don’t want to start paying lawyers. That’s where blockchain apps like Capture come in.

Capture

As far as this technology goes, Capture is more a proof-of-concept. The app currently lets you take photos and then give them to others. When you give a photo away, it is transferred to that person, and becomes the only copy of that image in existence. “There is only one copy of any Capture taken, so when you decide to gift it, the ownership is transferred,” says the App Store blurb. This is similar to cryptocurrencies, which use the blockchain to ensure that only one copy of, say, a Bitcoin, can exist.

But blockchain tech has many other uses. It can be used to check if a photo has been edited, for example, which could be good for photojournalists who want to prove that their image has not been photoshopped. In fact, camera makers already do this, or try to: Nikon’s authentication system, used in its professional cameras, was cracked back in 2011.

Nikon’s tech did not use a blockchain, but in 2018, Kodak announced that its KodakOne cryptocurrency platform would be used to protect photographers’ copyrights. “[It] will create an encrypted, digital ledger of rights ownership for photographers to register both new and archive work that they will then be able to license within the platform,” said the company on its website.

“We already have a solution that pairs Numbers technology with mobile camera phones and external DSL cameras,” said Wu. “In the future, we may extend support to other trusted photo platforms.”

“Our technology uses various environmental sensors to capture metadata such as location, timestamp, etc,” Wu continued. “Our DSLR solution allows us to sync DSLR cameras (ie: a Canon DSLR) to a mobile device to capture birth information, and generate certificates and unique signatures.”

Blockchain tech could also help to debunk reworked images shared on social media. “There is a lot of distrust in the news media industry due to increased awareness of fake news,” said Numbers Protocol in its tech paper.

For that to happen, though, viewers would have to be as attentive to corrections as they are to sensational fake news. Services like Capture and KodakOne can prove authenticity, but will anybody care?

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