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Zurich researchers solve picture piracy problem on the Internet

Swiss researchers discover watermarking system to encode pictures on the Internet and protect them from copyright breaches

(Schweizer Nationalfonds)

A group of researchers in Switzerland have devised a system to combat the piracy of copyright pictures on the Internet. With nearly half of all copyright pictures stolen, the researchers believes that the new system, Eversign, is a breakthrough.

"Our market analysis has shown that 40 to 50 per cent of all material that is offered on the commercial market is in many cases misused and to some extent stolen," says Alexander Herrigel, the director of Digital Copyright Technologies, a company launched to build on the research conducted by the Federal Institutes of Technology in Zurich and Lausanne, as well as Geneva University.

"In Germany, for instance, there are 140 million images offered commercially, and if 40 per cent are misused, then this adds up to a large amount of misused material," Herrigel says.

The Eversign is a watermark, digitally imprinted on pictures, both still and moving. Herrigel says it is fool-proof because it is invisible to the human eye, and is a permanent imprint which will never disappear no matter how often a picture is copied.

"The principle idea behind Eversign is that the deficiency of the human visual system is exploited," explains Herrigel.

If a picture archiving company had reason to believe their material was being pirated, then investigators would look for the watermark, and like a fingerprint, would be able to identify the owner.

Music piracy made easy with the advent of the Internet sparked an outcry from pop stars. A lot of attention focused on the ease of downloading music from the Internet using MP3 technology. Now the same attention is being given to pictures and films which are increasingly vulnerable.

The Eversign is due to come onto the market next month under the package name of "Workstations Solutions". The "Intranet Solution" is another system that could be used for watermarking. A server system dedicated to multimedia e-commerce, along with a certification service, will also be on the market by September.

by Samantha Tonkin


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