Photos Deserve the Digital Protections That Are Standard Elsewhere

Digital rights ownership and control are at the heart of a losing battle that photographers have been fighting for decades. One of the interesting, but overlooked, offshoots of the NFT craze is a technical one: the capability that underscores the value of an NFT is the ability to sign and authenticate it. What was accelerated […]

Photos Deserve the Digital Protections That Are Standard Elsewhere

Digital rights ownership and control are at the heart of a losing battle that photographers have been fighting for decades. One of the interesting, but overlooked, offshoots of the NFT craze is a technical one: the capability that underscores the value of an NFT is the ability to sign and authenticate it.

What was accelerated by the convenience of lazy discovery by Google Images and similar services has gradually blossomed into a digital ecosystem where only the most extreme and commercial creative theft is punished.

Instagram’s lifeblood is the creation and addition of new art. But, even when that art is uploaded by the original copyright owner, the technology facilitates a rapid subversion by aggregators, imposters, and predatory brands.

There are tools to remove or punish some of this infringement but it is designed to amplify and reward the bad or neutral actors while putting the onus on the creator. There’s an over 15-year-old implied acceptance that the technology isn’t out there to properly attribute and enforce copyright and that assumption provides safe harbor through inaction and laziness.

If you attempt to upload music or footage from a popular movie to any of the major social platforms, you’ll have that material flagged and restricted, demonetized, or removed almost immediately. It has been 13 years since Google introduced its automatic copyright detection. Facebook now actively runs its own, though it initially profited enormously from the cross-posted and stolen video as it grew initial adoption before being forced to activate a YouTube-like solution. Recent announcements further highlight just how advanced this technology has gotten: Youtube is now testing the automatic detection and listing of products seen in videos.

Photo by Alex Berger | This photo should be protected digitally.

Yet, it remains fundamentally ok for these platforms to not only facilitate and enable re-posting, re-sharing, and intermittent attribution for photos — but to actively encourage and reward it. Platforms like Instagram, which sits on top of Facebook’s content matching platform, actively encourage photographers to create business accounts, to pay money to promote their photos and posts, and then actively undercut that.

Image theft or misuse on algorithmically-driven social platforms require an added consideration — time — when evaluating the validity of content protection tools. If 90% of views take place in the first 72 hours after content is posted, having mechanisms that force manual identification, and then take 48 hours or more at the absolute minimum to pull that content, rewards bad behavior and exploits content creators.

The fundamental mechanics of platforms like Instagram exploit and undermine photographers because photographers lack a unified voice with teeth like those that have secured rights for Musicians and Film Producers.

This creates situations where the original content creator posts an image. Let’s say that a given image accrues 500 engagements. In short order, aggregators that may or may not secure permission, repost the photo which can then draw tens of thousands of engagements. Meanwhile, those that just scrape the content go largely overlooked, and those that repost with attribution funnel perhaps 0.1% of those eyeballs to the content creator and owner.

It’s not that these aggregators and discovery platforms don’t fill an important and valuable need. It’s that the system is structured in a way that exploits and undermines the content creator. The technology is clearly there. The computing power is there.

Photo by Alex Berger | The technology to prevent this photo from being stolen already exists.

What’s missing is the will from platforms like Instagram and others to automatically index and populate new content and then match that and flag it. And if the engineers at Instagram, Pinterest, Google, and others can’t figure out a way, tools like Pixsy are one acquisition away.

What’s needed is a clear hierarchy the respects and nurtures the creative. Ensure that upon upload, the original creator of the content is indexed. From there, enforce a strict attribution hierarchy that identifies and tracks reposting or re-uploading of the photo. Build-in attribution automatically in the same way it is handled for music on Youtube, for example. Then, and only then, provide the option for the photographer to allow various degrees of usage and resharing of the image.

NFTs and the blockchain have already highlighted one potential way to do part of this. The rest? It’s just a matter of turning the tools built over a decade ago for the music and film industries and finally bringing it to photography.

It’s not just a path to bringing creatives and end-users closer together again, it would seem to be the legal and right thing to do and nurture a more robust and unique user experience.


The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.


About the author: Alex Berger is a travel and landscape photographer based in Copenhagen, Denmark and the inventor of the MistDefender Lens Cloth. You can find his work on VirtualWayfarer, Instagram, and Flickr.


Image credits: Header photo licensed via Depositphotos.

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The Winners of the 2021 Nikon Surf Photo and Video of the Year Awards

Nikon Australia, in partnership with Surfing Australia, has announced the winners of its 2021 Nikon Surf Photo and Video of the Year Awards. The industry-recognized awards provide a national platform to celebrate the work of local surf photographers and videographers. Now in its ninth year, the competition was judged by a panel of 13 “high-profile […]

The Winners of the 2021 Nikon Surf Photo and Video of the Year Awards

Nikon Australia, in partnership with Surfing Australia, has announced the winners of its 2021 Nikon Surf Photo and Video of the Year Awards. The industry-recognized awards provide a national platform to celebrate the work of local surf photographers and videographers.

Now in its ninth year, the competition was judged by a panel of 13 “high-profile individuals within the surfing industry,” including seven-time World Surfing Champion and Nikon Brand Ambassador Stephanie Gilmore. The panel were tasked with selecting the best surfing photo and video based on four criteria: innovation and creativity, dramatic effect and sensory impact, uniqueness, and composition of the panel.

The winning image was captured by Stu Gibson who gained the title of “Nikon Surf Photo of the Year” while Spencer Frost claimed “Nikon Surf Video of the Year.” Both Gibson and Frost were awarded a Nikon Z6 II and Nikkor Z 24–70mm f/4 S lens.

John Young, General Manager, Marketing, Nikon Australia, said, “We’re proud to celebrate the incredible talent and passion of Australia’s surf photographers and videographers in partnership with Surfing Australia. Continuing to see the stories captured by the best surf photographers and videographers with such a high caliber of creativity has been awe-inspiring. Congratulations to all the finalists.”

Chris Mater, CEO, Surfing Australia, said, “Each year, we look forward to hosting such an esteemed event, where we recognize the outstanding achievements of the Australian surfing community and the creatives behind the lens who capture the action.”

Below is Gibson’s winning image:

Below are the other finalists from the competition:

Photo by Simon Connolly
Photo by Lucas Martin
Photo by Warren Keelan
Photo by Eddy Dallimore
Photo by Peter Jovic
Photo by Piotr Parzybok
Photo by Jordan Godley
Photo by Eden Pogonoski
Photo by Eden Pogonoski
Photo by Tom Pearsall
Photo by Scott Harrison
Photo by Alex Van Kampen
Photo by Alex Van Kampen
Photo by Russel Ord
Photo by Jack Ogrady
Photo by Travis Johnson
Photo by Warren Keelan
Photo by Mark Onorati
Photo by Gergo Rugli

Frost’s winning film below is titled A Corner of the Earth.

Below are the two other finalists’ videos. First is Spirit by Tom Jennings followed by First Name in the Water by Andrew Kaineder.


Image credits: Photos individually credited and provided courtesy of Nikon Australia.

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