Stealing an image is harder to do with Exif, a new smart watermark

exif makes image theft hard 28321474  photo editor working on computer and used graphics tablet
Scyther5 / 123RF

Stealing an image online is often as simple as a copy/paste or taking a screenshot, but a new service is aiming to curb image theft while giving credit where credit is due. Exif (named after EXIF file data) is a program currently in beta testing that adds an “invisible” watermark while embedding the photographer’s information and keeping track of views, making image theft not impossible, but certainly a whole lot harder.

An image uploaded to Exif is translated into HTML code. Embedding that code into a compatible website places that image, which looks something like this.

If you click on the little ‘I’ or info icon in the upper left corner, you will see all the information crediting the original photographer, which in the link above is Chris Hillary, including how to follow him on Instagram. Try to right-click and you will get the same credit information, with no options to download. Try to take a screenshot and you will get a big black box over the center of the photograph with the link to the photographer’s Exif profile. Drag and drop the photo, and again, a watermark.

Along with making image theft much harder, Exif also tracks how many people view the image and from where. When the image is embedded onto multiple websites, you can see which sites gained the most views and which sites chose to correctly share your photo with an embed and full credit.

While the platform does not have the same compatibility with social media at this point, users can share a link to the image, which will share the image with the link and the watermark. Clicking on the photo will take users to the Exif page where they can see the watermark-free image. Exif currently has direct integrations with Squarespace, WordPress, Tumblr and iFrame, with additional platforms expected to launch as the system grows.

The idea for the program came after photographer Jarred Bishop shared a photo on Flickr, only to find it uncredited on Tumblr, Buzzfeed, and Pinterest. Bishop then worked with Lizy Gershenzon and Travis Kochel of Scribble Tone to design the program.

While the invisible watermarks and image theft system could be a big help for photographers, payment is based on the number of views the photograph receives, so the more websites that embed the image, the more the user will have to pay. Photographers, however, can choose who has access to that HTML code embed. During beta testing, photographers can sign up with 1,000 free credits. After that, the service costs between 30 and 15 cents for every 1,000 views.