I caused big problems, for myself and my employer, back in April when I used an image, with credit, but without permission on one of my employer's blogs.
I have always been more interested in solving problems than causing them, however. Despite my poking at critics, I knew both I and Chris Buzelli are in the copyright business, and believed technology could create some common ground.
The good news, I've found, is that a Web permission engine exists. The folks at Picscout called to tell me they've been in this business for almost a year, and best of all they have a competitor, LicenseScout, which has been in the business a while longer. (Competition is always good. It helps a market grow.) LicenseScout sees its mission broadly — including all kinds of content — while PicScout is focused on images.
The difference between PicScout and a regular photo agency is that everything's automated, and can be integrated with browsers and search engines. For image owners, it integrates with a service called PhotoShelter, aimed at increasing sales of images for re-use. (The picture above leads to this sales page.)
Amy Love, PicScout's vice president of marketing since September, was kind enough to lead me through it. The heart of the offer is ImageIRC, which indexes images through digital fingerprints, maintains a metadata registry on the images, and offers an API through which buyers and sellers can connect.
The result is a suite of software-driven services:
- ImageExchange, which identifies images with metadata and throws up pricing information, then handles transactions. (There are currently versions for Firefox and Explorer.)
- ImageTracker, which lets owners of images see who has accessed them, again by following the metadata, and
- ImageQualification, which helps site owners know the status of their images as soon as they are posted.
What has me most excited is PicApp, a spin-off that not only allows access to license-free thumbnails, but includes meta data aimed at helping sites hosting the images get more traffic. They're pitching it as a free Search Engine Optimization (SEO) service for sites and a tracking system for image owners. There's a plug-in for WordPress and a Firefox plug-in.
Most of what I have described is a service for owners and users of stock photography, and in fact big rights owners like Corbis and Getty Images are already playing. But Amy said any artist can register to have their art catalogued, free, because once art goes online it becomes an image by default. Artists can either do this directly or through the agents they prefer to use.
I like a happy ending, don't you?