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Section: Application Domains

Copyright Protection of Images

With the proliferation of high-speed Internet access, piracy of multimedia data has developed into a major problem and media distributors, such as photo agencies, are making strong efforts to protect their digital property. Today, many photo agencies expose their collections on the web with a view to selling access to the images. They typically create web pages of thumbnails, from which it is possible to purchase high-resolution images that can be used for professional publications. Enforcing intellectual property rights and fighting against copyright violations is particularly important for these agencies as these images are a key source of revenue. The most problematic cases, and the ones that induce the largest losses, occur when “pirates” steal the images that are available on the Web and then make money by illegally reselling those images.

This applies to photo agencies, and also to producers of videos and movies. Despite the poor image quality, thousands of (low-resolution) videos are uploaded every day to video-sharing sites such as YouTube, eDonkey or BitTorrent. In 2005, a study conducted by the Motion Picture Association of America was published, which estimated that their members lost 2,3 billion US$ in sales due to video piracy over the Internet. Due to the high risk of piracy, movie producers have tried many means to restrict illegal distribution of their material, albeit with very limited success.

Photo and video pirates have found many ways to circumvent even the most clever protection mechanisms. In order to cover up their tracks, stolen photos are typically cropped, scaled, their colors are slightly modified; videos, once ripped, are typically compressed, modified and re-encoded, making them more suitable for easy downloading. Another very popular method for stealing videos is camcording, where pirates smuggle digital camcorders into a movie theater and record what is projected on the screen. Once back home, that goes to the web.

Clearly, this environment calls for an automatic content-based copyright enforcement system, for images, videos, and also audio as music gets heavily pirated. Such a system needs to be effective as it must cope with often severe attacks against the contents to protect, and efficient as it must rapidly spot the original contents from a huge reference collection.


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