With billions of photos uploaded and shared daily on a variety of photo sharing sites, monitoring copyright is a nightmare for both visual companies and content owners alike. On one side, photo sharing platforms cannot physically police every upload and on the other, content creators cannot spend their days policing the web for illegal usages. While legislators are starting to reconsider the text of the law, a Los Angeles startup might just have the right automated solution to make everyone’s’ life easier and generate revenue for everyone in the process. Alex Stone, co-founder and CEO of Imagewiki, fresh from a successful experience in the music licensing world, sat down with us to explain his vision:
In a nutshell, Imagewiki is aggressively working to create an ecosystem in which sharing images on social media generates ad revenue for both photographers and social media platforms.
Imagewiki enables platforms to identify the ownership information of images that are uploaded to their sites in real-time as they’re uploaded. Our content partners can choose to participate in an ad-based monetization program with some or all of their images. This allows social media platforms to add a DMCA compliant advertising component to their model, which also compensates creators.
Our system is built to give further control to content owners. By setting proactive rules in our database, they can control what happens when their images are uploaded by random users on social media. Our system allows creators to choose between monetizing, simply allowing uploads with automatic attribution and usage reports, or automatically preventing unauthorized uploads altogether. These rules are dynamic and can be changed at any time.
Imagewiki also offers the community a free public directory, “wiki”, which allows anyone to claim ownership and copyright information of their images. Users wishing to locate copyright owners can use our reverse image search to look up the corresponding photographer and rights information for the images they search, provided they are in our database.
What made you decide to build Imagewiki?
While at UCLA, my co-founder Gideon Arom and I built a rights management software called Catalogik for music companies to manage licensing of musical assets. In 2013, we were acquired by Rumblefish, the largest provider of social licenses and leader in the field of license verification within social networks. Integrating our technology with Rumblefish (now owned by rights society SESAC) allowed us to compensate musicians for uses of their music on social video networks.
Grappling with the incredibly complex world of music rights, and applying our technology to the social media sphere got us thinking about the greater problem as a whole. Namely, that while new social media platforms allow anyone with an internet-enabled device to be a publisher and thus broadcast their creativity to the world without barriers, the power has obviously shifted from the large publishers to technology companies. And, technology companies haven’t implemented a way to control how content is being shared, or to compensate creators.
As amateur photographers, it didn’t take us long to realize the problems we’d solved for music could easily be applied to photography. We were shocked to see that the problem wasn’t solved at all for images (which have a far simpler rights structure than music), so we got started on Imagewiki immediately.
In order to take off, Imagewiki needs to be connected to social media platforms as well as a large volume of photos. How does it look as of today?
It’s looking great; we’re incredibly optimistic. Imagewiki has been very well received by photo companies and photographers, particularly because they’ve watched their images show up all over the web and social media without any credit, control, or compensation and are very frustrated. So far the only solution to infringements has been a game of litigious ‘Wackamole’. Essentially, content owners try to scan the web and go after people for unlicensed usages. While we understand those services are necessary to combat unlicensed commercial use, our focus is on finding a solution to personal social usage for which litigation is not a viable solution. The community is definitely excited by a new perspective on how to create a proactive solution to the social media problem. Our solution gives image creators control over how their content is shared and puts dollars in their pockets.
It’s also refreshing for social media platforms because it changes the discussion from demonizing them to allowing them the opportunity to support copyright in a way that’s conducive to their users and product. They’ve already made great headway on solving the same issues for music copyright.
So at this point, we’re ingesting a massive pipeline of files, which will wind up being the initial inventory of identifiable photos we can offer to the platforms. We’ve begun preliminary talks with platforms and are excited to see them progress in the coming months.
Is Imagewiki open to worldwide photographers or just USA based?
Imagewiki is open to anyone who owns images.
Who should apply, copyright or license owners? In other words, for the same picture, should it be the photographer or his photo agency?
It depends. Ultimately that decision is made by the party who is actively administering the copyright. If a photographer gives away an exclusive right to represent their content for licensing, then the agency would have the right to administer for it. If not, then the photographer may opt-in themselves.
Though photographers can always add their photographer credit to our wiki directly regardless of who administers their images.
What type of revenue scale can a photographer/agency expect?
The precedent from other ad revenue models has been 60% of gross revenue going back to the copyright holders (photographers/agencies), which is what we are shooting for.
How do you handle copyright ownership disputes?
Imagewiki will give copyright owners the ability to resolve conflicts of ownership and will facilitate communication between the parties. To help bring conflicts to a quicker resolution, any monetization on images in conflict will be halted until the ownership is resolved.
It is not Imagewiki’s place to adjudicate ownership conflict disputes. We are not judges or juries. Rather, we provide a technology system to help copyright owners manage their assets and rights and resolve conflicts themselves.
Could Imagewiki also become a tool for Orphan Works?
Definitely, and it already is. The ability to look up images by reverse image recognition is a critical component to solving the Orphan Works problem. Imagewiki allows anyone to look up the underlying ownership information for images, provided we already have the files in our database. There are other industry-specific registries that deal with this issue such as the PLUS registry and we’re working with some of them, but we felt there really needed to be a wiki-styled approach that was very broad and easily accessible to the community.
The US Copyright Office is considering various solutions to the Orphaned Works problem, the most prominent being the Orphan Works Act of 2008; a bill which the House of Representatives has put forward that would limit the damages that a content owner could seek when their content is used without their permission, provided that the user has made a “diligent search” to find the owner. So it’s really urgent for photographers, and any creator of visual content to make sure they have some sort of publicly accessible claim to credit of their work.
We just felt that Imagewiki’s reverse-searchable wiki needed to exist and be freely available to all creators and agencies, so we decided to build it and give it to the community. As our efforts with the social media platforms progress, Imagewiki will make a big dent in the ‘Orphan Works’ problem.
What would be a sure sign of success and how long do you give yourselves?
We’re extremely passionate about solving this problem and will be working at it for as long as it takes.
Imagewiki inking a deal with any of our target image sharing platforms would be a surefire sign of success. This is extremely important for not just photographers and image companies, but for all kinds of copyright owners as we will be setting a precedent for copyright to be respected by the social media companies and other online service providers. It will also show that copyright compliance is not a zero-sum game and that by working together social media companies and copyright owners can establish a profitable model.
To learn more about Imagewiki and participate, check them out here: http://www.imagewiki.org/
Author: Paul Melcher
Paul Melcher is the founder of Kaptur. He is an entrepreneur, advisor, and consultant with a rich background in visual tech, content licensing, business strategy, and technology with more than 20 years experience in developing world-renowned photo based companies with already two successful exits.