ImageRights: Protecting Images Online, For Free

If you are a photographer or other visual artist and you’ve tried to track your works online, you’ve undoubtedly become aware of how difficult it can be to do so.

The problem is that there generally isn’t a cost-effective means of monitoring visual work, at least not for smaller artists. Though several powerful image detection tools do exist, such as Digimarc and PicScout, they remain largely out of the reach of small professionals despite consistently dropping prices.

However, ImageRights is hoping to change that. They offer a proactive image monitoring service that can track up to 10,000 images, all for free.

The service will monitor your images, send you emailed reports when they find duplicates and let you take action, they will even seek to collect payment from those using your image without permission in cases where appropriate.

Can this be the image monitoring service you’ve been looking for? It really depends on what you’re wanting to do with it. However, I think many smaller professional artists and photographers will be very interested in what ImageRights has to offer.

How it Works

The basic idea of ImageRights is that you upload your images to the service, up to 10,000, and ImageRights automatically spiders the rest of the Web and looks for duplicates of your work (as well of other works it is monitoring).

You get your start by first signing up for a free account from their signup page.

Once you’ve done that and logged in using the provided password, you’ll be taken to your account dashboard, which looks like this:

There you simply click the link to upload images to your account and you’ll be greeted with a Java applet that lets you upload multiple files to your account. For this test, I used a pair of images from my wife’s art site.

Once you’ve done that, you’ll be given a warning that it may take several minutes for your images to process and be posted to your gallery. Once they are processed, you can simply click the “Your Images” link and see your uploaded images though there isn’t much you can do with them at this time other than confirm they are there.

Once that’s done, the process is mostly complete other than receiving reports. Unfortunately, since it can take a month before the first reports trickle in, I don’t have any sample reports of my uploaded content to look at. However, the site provides several samples of their own to look at, including the one below.

Once you get a report, what happens next is, quite literally up to you. You can ignore the report, especially if it is a licensed use, take action yourself or have ImageRights act for you. If you do have ImageRights take action for you, they will split the money collected 50/50 if you have a free account and 65/35 if you are a paid member. A Basic Package will cost $9.95 per month and will protect 250 images where a Pro Package will protect 10,000 images (the same as the free account) at the cost of $39.95 per month.

(Note: Ted from ImageRights left a note below and wanted to clarify that the copyright holder is always in control of the resolution process and decides which cases, if any, are forwarded to their resolution department.)

Whether these packages are worthwhile will depend on how heavily you use their collection services and how much they bring in for you. If they bring in a great deal, it is certainly worthwhile, otherwise, it will be best to stick with the free account.

Thoughts on the Service

Unfortunately, due to the slow nature of the match location, which is typical of image-detection services, I can’t comment at this time on the effectiveness of the matching or the reports themselves. I can say that the service spiders millions of images per month and has a fairly high match rate according to the numbers I was given, indicating it is doing a good job indexing the Web.

All in all, the process of setting up an account is fairly straightforward and the Java uploader makes it easy to put multiple images into your account at once. Though I only tested it with two, it was easily able to select my entire Images folder and could have done so.

The only interface gripe I had was that, in places, the look appeared unpolished. The design was not always the most elegant or the most clear, though I never struggled for more than a second to figure out the next move and, for the most part, the system is “hands off” making this a fairly moot point.

As for the monitoring, it is definitely easier and more efficient than manual solutions, such as Tineye, especially for larger libraries, and it is certainly cheaper than alternatives such as Digimarc and PicScout.

However, despite this, I’m a bit uneasy about throwing my full support behind this solution.

The reason is that the system depends heavily on customers using their enforcement system and ImageRights stressed to me that their system is only for professional and semi-professional visual artists. While that is fine and creators do have final say in when and if the enforcement system is used, that system, which involves sending threatening letters to suspected infringers, has proved to be controversial and promote a great deal of backlash.

(Note: Ted from ImageRights left a note below and wanted to clarify that the copyright holder is always in control of the resolution process and decides which cases, if any, are forwarded to their resolution department.)

If this is the route you want to go, ImageRights is, almost certainly, the best tool for the job (though you’ll likely want to ensure all of your works are registered with the U.S. Copyright Office to ensure you have the full array of options. But if you are merely curious about how your images are being used or want to do self-enforcement, ImageRights may be able to help, but clearly the system is not ideal for you.

My advice is this: If you’re unsure if ImageRights is right for you, contact them and tell them your situation and what you need. They can tell you whether they are a good choice and were very honest with me about who they are targeting and why.

Bottom Line

Personally, I don’t encourage content creators to go down the heavy-handed road when it comes to copyright enforcement. In my experience, the revenue generated has not always been great and it has caused other problems for the business, including anger at the brand.

Though they will be offering takedowns through their service in the future, it will be akin to my current DMCA Takedown Service and will be a paid, value-added feature.

Though it seems to me that ImageRights has the right price and the right product (even on the paid accounts) the strong connection to a particular kind of enforcement limits those who its ideal for to those going down that particular path.

While ImageRights is a step in the right direction and may be ideal for some, I can think of many visual artists who will still be looking for something more tailored to them.

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