Everybody knows about my passion for WordPress, but I am also very interested in Blockchain technology, particularly in its potential to reshape the world of intellectual property in the Internet of Value. One of the projects I have been closely following from the very beginning is Mediachain.io, a decentralized, open data protocol based on Blockchain technology.
I was very excited to learn a few weeks ago that Mediachain announced its new Attribution Engine, a search engine for photo creators. I have high hopes on this changing the Internet for media, and the Mediachain guys are promising to do amazing things for the web. This enthusiasm and goals, adding the backing of some of the most famous venture capitalists (USV and Andreessen Horowitz among others), gives them a good chance of accomplishing great things. However, this open letter intends to give constructive feedback based on their latest announcement about free image track and usage, and my hope is for it to be taken into consideration as useful input in the matter. I would certainly love to hear back from Mediachain, and to learn more about and from them.
We think Mediachain might be great for institutional copyright owners (like The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), Getty Images, the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), and Europeana) and professional photographers who can benefit enormously from this technology. However, for the majority of today’s online photo sources (individual photographers or free photos sites), it’s impossible to rely on the current legal environment –in most countries–, which is necessary to make it work for them.
Image tracking might be available for everyone and be easily doable, but managing usage of photos is a bit more tricky. Mediachain founders for sure know what we are talking about, because of their professional background. But given the communication happening around the Attribution Engine, we thought it would be valuable to summarize some ideas around copyright and photo usage in the Web.
The Announcement from Mediachain
Mediachain announced recently that the Attribution Engine will let you find free, high quality images that you can share and re-use, with attribution automatically baked in. Like this, you can feel good and safe about sharing or using an image from web in your blog post, presentation or website.
You can even upload any image found on the web to your hard drive, and find out who created it, when and where. If the system cannot recognize the image creator, it will suggest visually similar images that are licensed for re-use, with attribution and proper license attached. Creators can also sign up to register their works on the database.
Some Issues with Attribution Engine Free Photo Function
You can try hopping on and test out the Attribution Engine. Here’s what I got when I tried a search for “people”:
Great free, high quality images, right? Wonderful to use for your personal or corporate blog, or any other publication. Most of the photos seem to come from Unsplash, Flickr and other free photo sites — but it is quite risky to talk about free photos in the Internet without specifying the use cases (read more here for a detailed explanation).
The issue is — in most countries, you cannot use these photos for personal or corporate blogs, nor in anything, really. Why? Because you likely have people as the subject of the photos, and they might not have signed a Model Release consenting their likeness to be used for free on the Internet. Beyond this, the responsibility for the use of these images does not fall on Unsplash nor any other free image photo provider, not even the Attribution Engine. If anybody sues a publication for incorrect use of copyrighted photos, the responsibility always falls on the publisher. To learn more about this, refer to our dedicated article: How not to get sued when using free photos with People in your WordPress website.
Try the Attribution Engine again, this time let’s search for a famous landmark, like the “Eiffel Tower at night”with its beautiful lights shining in the night. Here’s the result:
Isn’t the Eiffel Tower great at night with lights on? It is, but unfortunately the law in France says that Société Nouvelle d’exploitation de la Tour Eiffel, is the legal owner of the lighting, and has the copyright for it. This company needs to give permission for the use of the lighting in images, and it happens that they actively track and sue companies and people around the world for the improper use of photos with the Eiffel Tower lights installation. You can read our full detailed guide about landmarks and copyright for more details :Why you can’t use your Eiffel Tower photo in your WordPress.
Ok, so what about our “Mac” or any of the famous “Apple” products we love to buy? Here is the result:
Same issue again. Partially for trademark and especially for copyright reasons, you will encounter legal trouble if you use these photos. We recommend to read our full guide on trademark, brands and logos to fully understand why you cannot use these images in your corporate or personal blog without knowing exactly how to use them. This is also something we have clarified in 10 surprising objects you can’t have in your photos in WordPress to describe the many objects in the world that have copyright.
Of course, some of you might think: “But hey, these images were all coming from other websites. Aren’t they supposed to check their photos are safe to use by publishers? Well, that would mean these companies would be offering a free service, and then performing revision and inspection of images on top of it. Most of these sites just don’t have the budget for that, and the truth is they don’t have a real reason to worry about is, as the responsibility for incorrect uses of images falls on the end user, in this case the publisher.
You could also argue: “But the photo is tagged as Public Domain/Creative Commons Zero (CC0)/GNU… free to use for everyone, so why can’t I use it? The issue here is that you don’t know what the people uploading and sharing these photos know about copyright and trademarks. They feel like it’s ok to share photos under those free use licenses, but they cannot give away copyright they do not own, and they cannot grant use for the image of people whom have not signed a Model Release. And they might not be aware of that. We recommend to read our full guide on Creative Commons CC0 and free photos to understand this (The Risks of using Free Creative Commons Photos in WordPress).
One thing is to be the owner of your photo and another to own the copyright as we explain in the image below:
An Exciting Idea, But Still Far from Realization
For all the exposed above, we believe that Attribution Engine’s functions to “find free, high quality images that you can share and re-use, with attribution automatically baked in—so you can feel good about sharing or using an image in your blog post, presentation, or website” As well as the “upload any image from the web to find out who made it and where it came from. If it doesn’t know the creator, it’ll suggest visually similar images that are licensed for re-use with attribution and proper licensing attached” and the “Creators can sign up to register their works ” cannot be applied in many countries of the world.
It is true that copyright laws are arcane in many ways and that they need to change. We hope that Mediachain and other Blockchain startups will bring us closer to decentralized sharing of more value with content creators, and to more joy and security for online publishers using photos from said creators.
We would love to see Mediachain succeed and make an automatically attributable content world possible, and maybe even with smart contracts to allow machine-to-machine payments based on pre-programmed use cases of content. For example using it for a service like PixelRockstar where any licensed photo can be tracked to make sure it’s being used properly, and content creators are being rewarded for their work.
Of course we will be happy to correct this article for any mistakes and misunderstandings and would love to help Mediachain in any way.
And while we are at it — check out my BitcoinComic.org, the first graphic novel in the world about Bitcoin, which I hope to upload to Mediachain in the future, for decentralized tracking and payment 🙂
Disclaimer: This blog does not provide legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you need legal advice, please contact an attorney directly.