Come in nº 6!

"I AM NOT a number, I am a free man" protested Number 6 as he struggled with steroidal space-hoppers on the deeply analogue Portmeirion beach. Now everything we do turns to
see caption
A rather poor attempt to turn a photo of Jenny Vaughan speaking at Annual Delegate Meeting into an illustration of the concept of watermarking. Photo © Steve Wilkinson; mangled by Mike Holderness
digits. Photographers -- even those old enough to remember the self-proclaimed genius of Patrick McGoohan -- will, the Freelance predicts, before long be ruminating: "I am free, because I have a number".

So what's it all about? The Visual Creators' Index, is what.

Keeping track of your work has never been easy. Writers may get postcards from Uncle Bruce in Melbourne congratulating them on articles they never sold there. The newspaper they licensed the piece to may unaccountably forget to tell them about syndication, but relatives and even persistent readers will eventually catch up. But what are the chances of Brucie recognising one of your pix? And electronic publishing makes unuthorised copying of photos much, much easier.

The answer is a "digital signature". Once you've turned a photo into a string of zeros and ones, you can mix in other zeros and ones -- representing, for example, a note that it's Andie Snapper's picture and anyone who wants to reproduce it should send a cheque for US$100 to 15 Railway Cuttings, East Cheam...

In fact, you can mix in a signature all over the picture. So, even if someone crops out one face from a crowd to make a mugshot and screens it coarsely, there's a fair chance you can scan it back in to a computer and run it through a program which announces -- to a court, if need be -- "this is Andie's pic". Eventually, you should be able to search the Web for all instances of your digital signature. Picture editors will be able to track you down from any digital print.

The smaller the chunk of extra information you mix in, the better the chances of finding it in a small crop. Also, the smaller the chances of it making a noticeable difference to the picture. A small signature can be entirely hidden in the "noise" which all pictures of the real world contain. (Look, if you keep asking questions I'll explain the cunning mathematics, and that's a threat.)

So, rather than include a complete statement of Terms & Conditions in each digital picture, Andie acquires a unique "signature number" from the Visual Creators Index. This is a system for matching numbers to photographers, developed by photographers' organisations including the NUJ. Unlike the digital signature system distributed with recent versions of the Photoshop program, VCI numbers are permanent.

The Association of Photographers has laid on presentations of the Visual Creators' Index on Wednesday 28 April, at 81 Leonard St London EC2 -- near Old St tube. They start at 11:00, 12:30, 14:30 and 16:00 -- or call 0171-739 6669 or email aop@dircon.co.uk. You can get a VCI signature number now by emailing info@vci-registry.org - and see www.vci-registry.org for more information.

Forward-thinking organisations representing photographers will eventually offer this service as a standard benefit of membership, and the Freelance will be doing all it can to ensure the NUJ is one of them.


Jul/Aug 1999 
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