Publish an image online today and there is a very good chance that within a few days, there will be hundreds, if not thousands of copies of it throughout the internet. None, unfortunately, will bear any information on who is the creator and how he/she can be found. This is not just an issue for professional photographers, who make a living by licensing images, but anyone who creates visuals to communicate, like marketers or social media manager. Because with each reuse comes the damaging potential for abuse and misappropriation. Imatag, a young startup from France, might just have the perfect solution: Invisible watermarking. We sat down with its CEO and co-founder Mathieu Desoubeaux to learn more…
– A little bit about you. What is your background:
I started as an engineer learning about content identification technologies 10 years ago at the INRIA (a French research institute of computer science). I did a Ph.D. in computer science within the Orange group where I worked on video watermarking. In parallel, I developed a personal passion for photography which led me to co-found IMATAG.
– What is Imatag? what does it solve?
Imatag is an online platform empowering the safe sharing of images. The number one issue facing photos today is the complete lack of persistent attribution. While sharing photos is prevalent, it comes at the expense of creators who quickly lose complete control over their images. Photographers, marketers, and brands are the primary victims.
Imatag provides a solution to this problem to ensure that the source of an image and its original metadata are always identifiable.
Our very robust invisible image tagging technology makes it possible to permanently identify the copy of an image, its license and its metadata, even if the image has been voluntarily altered or not.
– What is the advantage of having an invisible watermark over a visible one?
Usually, photographers or brands use a visible watermark to prevent unauthorized reuse of their images while sharing their work (website address, social profile, signature, name…).
But this provokes actually several major drawbacks: The work is strongly altered, if not partially obscured, making the viewing experience deeply unpleasant. Furthermore, the watermark is easily removed. A simple crop, a quick image edit or via A.I. (as Google Labs showcased in a recent article.). The result: 68% of photographers victim of infringement in 2016 had their visible watermark removed.1
An invisible watermark makes each copy connected to its specific license and owner. It allows you to keep entire control of your visuals, even if someone has tampered with it or took a screenshot.
– Who is Imatag for? What is your typical customer?
A brand marketer can use it to track repost of a campaign ( earned media) while monitoring for embarrassing usages. As well, a blogger can use it to protect his/her original content from being lifted by others. A photographer can share images with complete safety.
Our typical customer is any visual content creator (photographer, agency, brands, marketers, social media, bloggers) who are fed up with having his/her work freely distributed online without any control. With its invisible and indelible watermark, Imatag uses its web crawlers to search the web and identify any tagged image, regardless of them being deprived of metadata, cropped, flipped or compressed.
– How big is Imatag today? How many clients? How many images processed?
8 full-time persons are working at imatag at this moment. We are currently working with 5 photo agencies (Maxppp, Hans Lucas, Roger-Viollet, Photononstop, La Collection). 7 million images have been watermarked and we are checking millions of images on the web every day.
We are building our platform with our main investor EDD who is the number one newspaper content licensors in France. We also provide our solution as a white label through our website Lamark.io to different kinds of B2B customers who need to integrate content protection technologies ( to protect PDF’s, for example).
– Does Imatag pursue infringement or is that left to the user?
We are not pursuing infringement for now but we are looking for partnerships to provide a legal protection to some of our users. We prefer to let that part to experienced legal people.
– Besides infringement, what can Imatag be used for? Can brands use Imatag for example?
Brands also have huge issues in identifying how and where their content spreads online. As they create visual content for multiple channels, IMATAG gives them the watermarking solution to monitor and get trusted insight into their distribution.
– Do you see the future for Imatag? A repository of all images and their copyright owners?
Imatag is a set of technologies that are used to identify the source of a content. It’s clear for us that metadata embedded in the file is still a very simple and good solution to automate and track content online at scale. It’s why we have started to build a repository of all images and metadata we found online. It’s growing daily. At this time we are crediting 1M images per day.
We will continue to promote our watermarking technologies as it the best technology you can implement against deleted metadata and unauthorized usage..
– With an estimated 1.8 billion images being produced every day, can Imatag keep up?
The watermarking software can run on the client system, at the source, so it can scale very easily. It takes less than a second to watermark a file.
On the tracking side, it’s a more complex task. If we are asked to detect 1.8 billion images in one day, it is possible but it requires hundreds of servers. Big platforms like Instagram or Flickr could easily integrate our invisible watermarking and should. This would allow them to provide their users with an intrusive way to monitor who is using their images outside of their platform and how.
– What would you love Imatag to offer that technology cannot yet deliver?
Web tracking needs to evolve. Instead of having to crawl thousands of websites to discover replicated images, it would be more efficient if images could ping back home. For that, you would need an image format that is more interactive than the ones currently used. It’s an evolving field and it’s definitely something we see developing.
Author: Paul Melcher
Paul Melcher is the founder of Kaptur and Managing Director of Melcher System, a consultancy for visual technology firms. 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.