Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Machine readable rights - a new world of frictionless licensing?

There was a distinct buzz as representatives from the news industry, image libraries, publishing, software, photography and the legal profession gathered in Amsterdam for the Machine Readable Rights and the News Industry: Opportunities, Standards and Challenges,  which formed part of the IPTC Spring Conference. The pot at the end of the rainbow is  'frictionless licensing', a vision of licensing transactions on a seamless automated workflow between content owner, publisher and end user.

Although the IPTC is rooted in the news industry, its scope is broader, and the issues discussed at this conference were widely seen as critical for all sectors of the creative world, and touch on issues of copyright, business viability and the future of all content licensing across media sectors and boundaries.

As an organisation representing the image licensing industry CEPIC is working to secure future business for image creators and image libraries. CEPIC’s participation in the European RDI (Rights Data Interchange) project was described by Sylvie Fodor. She outlined the need for unique identifiers for images and for methods of reuniting images with their rightsholders in an environment where the proliferation of so-called orphan works is threatening the very business of image licensing. The RDI will provide a test bed for CEPIC as a registry allocating unique identifiers for images, and as an exchange, where users are directed to licensing outlets for images. Partners in the project are Getty Images/PicScout, AGE/THP, Album and PLUS.

Eugene Mopsik from the US photographers association ASMP also called for unique identifiers. It is easier to right click and download than to license an image, he said, and called for a professional attitude on behalf of image providers so that rights data is supplied along with the images. It is no longer good enough, he said, to wait for misuse and then litigate. Supporting the use of the PLUS standards, he reminded the conference that a Picscout survey found 80% of web uses were unauthorised. The logic here is - make it easier for users to do the right thing and license the image. Mopsik supports the use of the PLUS registry as part of the solution for orphan works, and indicated that linking photographers direct to a PLUS registry is a 'no brainer' technically. The hold ups are more political and administrative than technical.

Licensing deals between press agencies are a complex and time-consuming business, said George Galt, Associate General Counsel for Associated Press. He highlighted the fact that lawyer time could be radically reduced if there were standards in rights expression, citing an example where a 3 year contract between agencies was finally signed 6 months after it was due to expire. There is a long list of rights expression ripe for standardising; exclusivity, prohibitions, retained rights, payments terms and copyright are just a few.  Getting the key terms standardised would go a long way to improving workflow he indicated.

Making money from content is the key driver to standards and automation. Andrew Moger, Executive Director of News Media Coalition, previous picture editor at the Times newspaper, said that as far as he could see everyone has worked out how to make money out of photographs, except photographers. He talked about conflicts over image rights in the sports world, citing the recent lock out of Getty Images from the Australian Cricket tour of India, and consequent ban on distributing images in a protest supported by all agencies including those allowed at the event. The issue of exposure by the press is taken for granted, he said. Imagery is valuable to businesses of all kinds, and ways must be found to retain that value for the content producers.

Thomas Hoppner, from law firm Olswang raised another issue which should concern all media sectors - the power of aggregators like Google to control and skew the market.  The Google site has become a place where people read the news online, and content is gathered from news sites, placing the search engine giant in direct competition with news providers. Content is supposedly protected against copyright infringement by the Robots Exclusion Protocol, but in practice if the protocol is used to block search engine access to material on a  news site, overall findability is severely compromised, making the site more or less invisible on the internet. Such is the power of Google. Negotiations are underway, but the balance of power is not equal, and there is a danger that the content creators and providers will lose out to the aggregators.

The Newspaper Licensing Agency, NLA, works on behalf of major newspaper groups to collect revenues from schools, cutting agencies, and publisher feeds. Faisal Shahabuddin, Head of Product and Service Management at the agency pointed out that progress in the area of machine readable rights will depend on the bottom line. Will developments increase revenue or reduce costs, he asked, leaving the answer open.

Returning to the issue of copyright, Michael Steidl, Managing Director of IPTC, described the recent IPTC study of metadata retention in images placed on social networking sites. Millions of images are uploaded to social networking other sites daily, and the study showed that FlickR, Twitter and Facebook currently remove key copyright data embedded in their image by photographers. Google + and Tumblr do better. The results can be found at the Embedded Metadata Manifesto site, which was set up by IPTC to campaign on retaining metadata embedded in image files. This issue of removing embedded data gets to the heart of copyright protection. The technology is there, but software developers ad suppliers need to more aware of the need to retain embedded data, and critically, to implement the technology to enable that. In a world where software development is based on user need, the IPTC wants to make both software companies and their clients aware of the need for metadata to be retained. The words 'noone is asking for it' should not be allowed to pass their lips.

John McHugh picked up the copyright issue from the point of view of a working journalist. Photographing in Afghanistan and other dangerous locations, he is acutely aware of the emotional and financial investment he makes in the images he produces. Dissemination of photography is exploding, he said, but revenues are not following, and attribution for images is thin on the ground. The IPTC metadata offers copyright protection but when metadata is stripped the photographer is left high and dry. Sharing and stealing is far too easy, he said, and photographers cannot not simply opt out of the internet. His solution is to take a step back and make it possible to watermark images direct from a mobile phone.  Marksta is a new company he set up to create an app which creates custom watermarks visible on the image, and allows photographers to enter IPTC metadata direct from their mobile phones. It’s not only professional photographers who are affected by losing their accreditation and rights. Marksta is also driven by soccer mums wanting to retain control of images of their children on the internet. The broader point here is that if copyright disintegrates in the social and non professional sphere, hanging onto it in the professional sphere will be nigh impossible if an anti copyright, use-what-you-want-where-you-want culture wins out.

So what are the standards that can be applied to expressions of rights and how can they be used? Graham Bell, Chief Data Architect at Editeur, has been working in the field for many years. Editeur manages the ISBN standards for books and has developed a number of other standards in the publishing industry. He distinguished between machine readable rights expressions, and those which are machine actionable, the basis for automation. Editeur has developed ONYX standards, which operate between publisher and retailer. So far there are few implementations, and this is a criticism often levied against standards bodies  - why is no-one using this standard? The answer, as those working in the standards field know well, is that it is a long game. If standards take time to develop, implementation often takes longer. The real world of commerce eventually comes to recognise the advantages of using standards, and it seemed from this conference that the time for machine readable rights is on the horizon. The people and companies who develop standards always have to work ahead of the curve.

The PLUS Coalition has produced a set of standards developed for use in the image industry. Jeff Sedlik and Ray Gauss presented the work of the organisation which recognised the need back in 2004. The international non profit PLUS Coalition created a matrix of rights expressions for use in the stock image industry, and a registry for images, creators, licensors and licensees, to enable rights data to be held online. This addresses the critical issue of where data is held. Data embedded in images is important, but there is wide agreement now that important data needs to be stored in the cloud. The principle is for embedded data to point to an online database or registry where it can be changed dynamically and so is always up to date. There are a number of important issues about who holds the data, how accessible it is, and who has access to what data. Both PLUS and Editeur have been engaging these issues for a number of years, and the registries reflect that.  PLUS has developed rights expressions to cover parties, industries, scenarios, licensing modes, time frames and much more. Adoption, as always, depends critically on user demand and software development. It's important at this point to note that none of the standards bodies forsees a future where there is no human interaction at all. It's more a case of let’s automate and standardise where it saves time and money and where it makes sense.

IPTC has been hard at work creating a rights schema for the news industry Rights ML using the Open Rights Digital Language ODRL.  Stuart Myles, Director of Schema Standards at Associated Press and Right ML Lead at IPTC presented the principles behind Right ML - that it is publishing specific, supports todays restrictions, and buolds for the future. The news industry, he said, needs increased automation to cope with the fast moving digital environment and sophisticated publishing relationships.

Creative Commons grasped a key aspect of licensing and rights years ago when it set up simplified rights expressions and icons for images on the internet. The user of a digital image needs to be able to be alerted to the rights situation, and there needs to be a presumption that there are rights associated with the image. The fact that the Creative Commons baseline is  that images will be shared is not at issue here; it is more important that it is clear that rights belong ito the creator or copyright holder, and that licences are actively granted not just taken for granted.

The use of Creative Commons licences has increased enormously; in 2007 they had 29.5 million works and in 2013 252.6 million works under CC licence. The expressions in CC REL (CC Rights Expression Language) code is legal (readable by lawyers), human understandable, and machine readable. The fact that many commercial image licensing bodies do not use Creative Commons lies in the failure of the codes to sufficiently define what commercial and non commercial uses entail. This can lead to users thinking, for example, that use of an image in a charity annual report is a non-commercial use. Anyone involved in licensing images will recoil at this understanding, and work in this area would be a prerequisite for acceptance of this schema by the professional licensing industry. This is however an important step, to bridge the gap between propoenants of 'free' and those engaged in licensing activity. A definition of boundaries will be essential to happy coexistence.

Andrew Farrow Project Director of the Linked Content Coalition (LCC) outlined the ideas behind the RDI project as an exemplary implementation of LCC.  LCC aims to provide a technical infrastructure to enable interchange of rights expressions between different existing media schemas so that rights can be read and understood across all media in an automated way. The RDI project with its 16 partners from different media sectors, starts in May 2013 and its objective is to demonstrate the range of dataflows across the media supply chain and show that the data can be interoperable.

Andreas Gebhard from Getty Images chaired the first session on the need for machine readable rights. Getty, as owner of PIcScout has long understood the need for copyright protection, and for mechanisms to link users to licensors. ImageIRC from Picscout used with ImageExchange allows images registered with Picscout to be located and tracked on the internet using fingerprinting technology and links users with the means to license them.

Zhanfeng Yue from Beiijing Copyright Bank Tech Co Ltd presented another form of protection copyright, the Copyright Stamp, which creates a visible and resolvable icon in the image, so easing the path for those who want to use images, and protecting the copyright of creators.

Generally, the mix of embedded machine readable data, fingerprinting technology and visual search mechanisms form the bedrock of copyright protection in the web environment. At a time where copyright and rewards for content providers are under severe pressure, discussions at the conference show a real desire to use available technologies to support content creators into the future.

Presentations from the conference can be found at the IPTC web site.

Watch out for the IPTC Photometadata Conference at CEPIC in Barcelona in June this year. Many of the topics raised here will be discussed further.