July 31, 2011

Artificial photos: A protection algorithm

Undercover reporting in hostile environments and totalitarian regimes comes with a number of problems – the biggest of them all? Remaining anonymous. The ability to discover who took a published photo, just by looking at it, has put photographers at risk. But now they have a defence mechanism.

A trio of computer scientists have conjured up a photography breakthrough. It involves a new piece of software that tricks the viewer into believing a photo was shot from a different angle. It might not sound like a monumental change, but it’s a photography breakthrough that could one day save lives.

Back in 2007, computer scientists Peter Schaffer, Djamila Aouada and Shishir Nagaraja were shocked when photographers at the 2007 Burmese protests were identified and arrested by government officials. They had been fingered by their own photography.

The officials were able to deduce their identities by pinpointing the location they took the photos using CCTV. A cross-check between the photographer’s location and a range of snaps revealed all.

What the photographers needed was a way to report from the field, without fear of being identified and targeted by hostile forces afterwards. Schaffer, Aouada and Nagaraja set to work.

Their answer is a smart piece of software that grabs photos from a camera in order to make them appear is if they were shot from a different vantage point.
How does it work?

Photographers must take several photos of a scene for the technique to work properly, although it’s able to function with just two original images.

Those photos are downloaded from the camera’s memory card, before being run through “view synthesis algorithms” that determine changes that can be made to an image, subtly adjusting angles to obfuscate the photographer’s position.

The software analyses the images, or “frames”, looking for corresponding objects and then merges them together. The result is an image with a new viewpoint, which is an amalgamation of the originals.

“The photographer’s anonymity can hopefully be maximized to the entire set of people present in that space,” explain the software’s inventors.
Future use

The software has yet to be tested in the field, but already there are a multitude of ways it could be used. The possibilities of reporting without fear in such situations are only likely to increase the quality and quantity of coverage, while undercover reporters tasked with infiltrating criminal organisations or companies will no doubt welcome it too.

The camera never lies, we’re told, but with technology on its side maybe soon it’ll start to bend the truth a little.

Read Peter Schaffer, Djamila Aouada and Shishir Nagaraja’s research paper in full here: [PDF link].

July 26, 2011

Microsoft Finally Adds RAW Support to Windows Explorer

Great news for PC users:

Microsoft has finally released a free codec pack for Windows Vista and Windows 7 that allows you to view and work with the RAW files of more than 120 different cameras directly in Windows Explorer.

Simply download and install the codec pack to get started.

Getty Images could sell celebrity photo division WireImage to Reuters for more than $300M

Word of a major business deal in the photojournalism world has celebrity lensmen's tongues flapping faster than their shutters.

A source tells us the stock photo agency Getty Images is in discussions to sell its celebrity and entertainment photography division, WireImage, to Reuters if the price is right.

Photographers for the two companies and some of the social subjects they often document began buzzing about the potential sale about three weeks ago.

One insider tells us that the deal makes sense — on paper, at least — because Reuters has no "entertainment" photography division, which has become a "major part of moneymaking" in photojournalism.

Getty acquired WireImage in 2007 when it purchased its parent company (and Getty's largest competitor), MediaVast Image, for $207 million. WireImage's sister site FilmMagic, which specializes in fashion and red-carpet photography, was also part of the deal.

In July 2008, the once publicly traded Getty Images was acquired by the private equity firm Hellman & Friedman for $2.4 billion. The photo giant has since been taken private.

According to our source, if Getty can sell WireImage for "north of $300 \[million\], it won't matter " that Reuters could become a potential competitor in the entertainment photography market.

Our insider says that if the two sides see eye to eye — or lens to lens? — the sale of WireImage could be announced in the next two weeks.

The source adds that Getty fueled suspicion among photographers who work there when it began asking West Coastbased WireImage photographers for the copyrights to their photos from the past few years — presumably so that if the deal went through, Reuters would be ensured an archive of celebrity shots.

A spokeswoman for Getty Images would only say that the company is "not selling WireImage to Reuters." She refused to answer additional questions for this story.

A Reuters spokeswoman did not respond to our requests for comment by deadline.

WireImage, which bills itself as "the Largest Entertainment Photo & Video Archive" on its website, is typically the house photography agency for the Academy Awards and the Grammys. The rock band U2 also uses the company as its exclusive concert photographer.

The photo agency also scored the last photos of a living, breathing Michael Jackson before his untimely demise in June 2009.

Recently its photographers have snapped Katy Perry, Sofia Vergara and Brooke Shields at the world premiere of "The Smurfs," Paul McCartney in concert and former President Bill Clinton at the Starkey Hearing Foundation gala.

Whether or not WireImage changes hands, celebrities will still be stepping and repeating until kingdom comes.

July 22, 2011

Why Citizens Must Fight For Their Right to Point Cameras at Police

Here’s a short clip from the talk show Stossel where American libertarian journalist Radley Balko talks about how cameras — especially mobile phone ones — are a powerful weapon against tyranny, and why laws should protect our rights to use them

July 19, 2011

2D Photography Rube Goldberg

Paparazzi Handcuffed After 'Recklessly' Pursuing Michael Jackson's Daughter

Police didn't see the chase, so they couldn't arrest the men.

Two paparazzi were handcuffed after they reportedly ran red lights and drove recklessly while chasing Michael Jackson's 13-year-old daughter, Paris.

The photographers were allegedly blowing through red lights while trying to get a shot of Jackson's daughter in the Los Angeles area, TMZ is reporting.

Officers handcuffed the two men but couldn't arrest or cite them because they didn't see the chase.

TMZ reports that the incident will not be forwarded to prosecutors due to insufficient evidence, however, Paris can still sue in civil court.

Paris is the oldest of Michael Jackson's three children.

Photos Must be the Product of Human Authorship to be Copyrightable

Here’s an update to the whole monkey copyright story that’s been swirling around the blogosphere as of late: TechDirt points out that works that aren’t the product of human authorship cannot support a copyright claim. Section 503.03 of Compendium II of Copyright Office Practices published by the US Copyright Office reads:
503.03 Works not capable of supporting a copyright claim.
Claims to copyright in the following works cannot be registered in the Copyright Office:
503.03(a) Works-not originated by a human author.
In order to be entitled to copyright registration, a work must be the product of human authorship. Works produced by mechanical processes or random selection without any contribution by a human author are not registrable. Thus, a linoleum floor covering featuring a multicolored pebble design which was produced by a mechanical process in unrepeatable, random patterns, is not registrable. Similarly, a work owing its form to the forces of nature and lacking human authorship is not registrable.
Is a photograph taken by a monkey the product of human authorship? On one hand, the monkey pressed the shutter, but you also can’t argue that a human author didn’t contribute, since they had to have provided the camera in the first place (unless the monkey stole it or something…).

July 16, 2011

Celebrity Smackdown: Walking the Red Carpet Is Consent, Judge Says

A federal court in Los Angeles has dismissed actress Shirley Jones's right of publicity claims against Corbis, saying she effectively consented to having her picture taken at red carpet events--and to having those images displayed for the purpose of licensing the copyrights. After dismissing all the claims, the court ordered Jones to pay the photo agency's legal costs.

The ruling signals that celebrity photo agencies can carry on business as usual, without worry that celebrities can sue them for displaying images for license without consent. The court emphasized, however, that end users of the images--that is, customers of the agencies who license the copyrights--still have to get permission from the celebrities to use the images commercially. And so does Corbis, the court said, if it wants to use images of Jones to advertise other products or use the images for any purpose except to display them for license to others.

Jones sued Corbis in November, 2010 alleging that the company violated her rights of publicity by displaying her likeness on its web sites, and by enabling the public to view pictures of her by searching on her name. Jones argued that by doing that, Corbis was making commercial use of the photographs without her permission, in violation of California state law.

Corbis filed a motion for summary dismissal of the claims. Last week, the court finally threw out Jones's claim on the grounds that while she may not have explicitly consented to the distribution of images taken of her, she consented through her actions--simply by walking down the red carpet and allowing celebrity photographers to take pictures of her. It is the custom of those photographers to use and disseminate those images, which Jones conceded in her  testimony, US District Court Judge Stephen V. Wilson wrote in the ruling.

Jones didn't dispute that for at least one event where pictures of her were taken, a notice was posted to warn celebrities that by walking down the red carpet, they were consenting to being photographed. Moreover, she was aware that events organizers provide alternative entrances for celebrities who do not want to be photographed.

Jones "voluntarily posed on the red carpet for photographers who she knew would sell her likeness and name," Judge Wilson concluded.

Just as importantly, the court rejected Jones' argument that the rights of the photographers to distribute their images of her didn't extend to their agent, Corbis.

Jones "never indicated that her consent was contingent on the individual photographers distributing the photos themselves. In fact, the undisputed factual record shows that [Jones] knew and understood that photographers on the red carpet could employ third parties to assist them in distributing her photos," and she made no objection to that in the past, Judge Wilson wrote.
Corbis "merely maintains a modern-day version of the catalogues of sample images that would be hand-delivered to potential buyers in the past."

Judge Wilson concluded in his ruling, "No reasonable jury could find that Defendant’s display for this purpose was not consensual. Any other holding would require that individual photographers themselves market their photos or obtain express consent from each subject prior to utilizing a third party distributor to market their red carpet photos."

July 15, 2011

US police to photograph public using iPhones

Police across the United States have been given license to photograph members of the public using iPhones, to establish whether their face matches a criminal database via facial recognition software.

Law-enforcement agencies in the US are gearing up to kit out police forces with the technology in September in a move likely to raise privacy concerns, reports the Wall Street Journal.

The device, called Moris, is a piece of hardware that attaches to an iPhone and is designed to recognize whether the person has a criminal history from an image of their face or the iris of the eye.

'The Moris system analyses 235 unique features in each iris and uses an algorithm to match that person with their identity if they are in the database,' reports the WSJ.

A police officer would need to be no more than five feet away for the facial recognition software to work, based on an image of their face alone. The system analyses '130 distinguishing points on the face', according to the newspaper.

Sarah Jessica Parker won't leave NYC despite presence of pesky paparazzi

Sarah Jessica Parker has revealed that the prying eyes of the paparazzi cannot shoo her away from New York City.

Rather, the actress has chosen to deal with her celebrity status directly, and not shy away from it.

The actress and husband Matthew Broderick were believed to be moving out of the city to pursue a suburban life with their kids, but Parker says that she's not ready for that kind of life right now.

"They follow every move I make until I'm back inside the house," the New York Daily News quoted her as telling the Vogue.

"You do start to understand the behind-the-gate mentality, the getting in the car in your driveway, but I can't imagine living in seclusion," she said.

"We flirted with it. We went outside the city and troubled all these realtors and stood in these homes and fantasized," she explained.

"The beautiful thing about New York is, you have to expose yourself to other people the minute you step outside the door. There is no choice. And I love that," she added.

Jennifer Aniston, Sarah Jessica Parker, Jennifer Lopez Participate in Paparazzi Doc

In "$ellebrity," rock and roll photographer and WireImage co-founder Kevin Mazur chronicles the rise of tabloid journalism told through the prism of the lens.

Longtime rock and roll photographer, red carpet fixture and WireImage co-founder Kevin Mazur is turning the lens on his own industry, chronicling the rise of the modern-day paparazzi in his first documentary, $ellebrity. The topic is a perfect fit. After all, WireImage (acquired in 2007 by Getty Images) is famous for shooting the stars at awards shows, onstage and on the street.

Mazur started the project two years ago with encouragement from Marc Anthony. “We’re friends,” Mazur tells The Hollywood Reporter, and he said, ‘Nobody Knows this business better than you.’ ” So Anthony, wife Jennifer Lopez, Jennifer Aniston, Sarah Jessica Parker, Elton John, Kid Rock and more were interviewed and wound up narrating the doc, which is in its final editing phase.

“People have always expected me to do music videos, but I’ve wanted to do films for a long time,” says Mazur, echoing the ambition of fellow shutterbugs-turned-directors like Spike Jonze, David Lachapelle and Danny Clinch. “Our goal in making the film was to have an intelligent conversation between all the parties -- the paparazzi, celebrities and people in the industry.”

Rolling Stone contributor David Wild conducted the interviews, which are both candid and, in some cases, surprisingly laid back -- a testament to the stars’ trust in Mazur and their faith in the film. “It’s fun to watch the Jennifer and Marc segments because they’re so relaxed and joking with each other,” says Mazur. “It’s like just hanging out in their house.”

At the same time, some of the conversations are incredibly intense, such as one scene when Parker describes being hounded by paparazzi while pregnant and another when Aniston explains the many methods she’s used to try and reason with the photographers who follow her every move.

But in chronicling the evolution of tabloid journalism from Hollywood’s earliest scandals to the recent issues of Us Weekly, Mazur emphasizes that his team didn’t just focus on the stars. “We talked to people on the street, newsstand owners and some photographers,” he says. “But most of those guys turn out to be hypocrites: they will take pictures of celebrities, but they won’t be photographed themselves.”

July 13, 2011

Monkey Business: Can A Monkey License Its Copyrights To A News Agency?

A year and a half ago, we wrote about a movie that was entirely filmed by chimpanzees, and wondered about who held the copyright on it. Technically, in most cases, whoever makes the actual work gets the copyright. That is, if you hand your camera to a stranger to take your photo, technically that stranger holds the copyright on the photo, though no one ever enforces this. There were some different theories made in the comments about who actually holds the copyrights, but no clear agreement. Of course, the whole discussion was purely theoretical, because it wasn't like anyone was concerned about the copyright.

However, now we have a similar, but different, story where I think it's a very valid question. Mr. LemurBoy points us to a story involving an award winning nature photographer, David Slater, who was in Indonesia in a national park. At some point, he left the camera unattended, and apparently a macaque monkey wandered over and took this hilarious self-portrait:
Now that's the best photo of the bunch, and appears to have no copyright notice on it (though that doesn't mean it's not covered by copyright), but two of the other photos, which the article also claims were taken by the monkeys, do have copyright notices, with the claim being that the copyright is held by the Caters News Agency.

So here's the legal question: how did the copyright get assigned to Caters? I can't see how there's been a legal transfer. The monkeys were unlikely to have sold or licensed the work. I'm assuming that it's likely that the photographer, Slater, probably submitted the photos to the agency, and from a common sense view of things, that would make perfect sense. But from a letter-of-the-law view of things, Slater almost certainly does not hold the copyrights on those images, and has no legal right to then sell, license or assign them to Caters.

July 5, 2011

Will & Kate royal visit: LAPD has plan to rein in paparazzi

Paparazzi anticipating a veritable royal feast of photographs when Prince William and his wife, Catherine, visit Los Angeles may be in for a rude awakening -- and a potential jail stay -- if they expect to take shots of the royal couple in certain parts of Hancock Park.

The Los Angeles Police Department has secured no-trespassing letters from residents who live in seven homes around the June Street residence where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will spend the night.

Those who live around the British consul general's residence have also signed keep-away orders, giving officers free rein to arrest prying paparazzi on the spot if they try to capture images of the royals while on private property.

"Our primary concern is to protect the rights and privacy of the residents as well as the safety of the royal couple upon their visit here to the United States," LAPD spokeswoman Mitzi Fierro said. "If they trespass on property where we have a signed trespass letter, they will be arrested immediately."

Some tabloids have already made lucrative offers to residents in the area but have not gotten any takers in the immediate area where the royal couple are staying, Fierro said.

The royal couple arrive in Los Angeles on Friday. On Saturday evening, they will attend a black-tie dinner and reception hosted by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts — of which William is president — at the recently renovated Belasco Theater in downtown Los Angeles. The “BAFTA Brits to Watch” event aims to spotlight emerging British talent and build partnerships between Hollywood and up-and-coming British actors.

D.C. Police Violated Photographer's Rights: ACLU

View more videos at: http://nbcwashington.com.

The District of Columbia is facing a lawsuit that could have national implications.

Several D.C. police officers violated a young man's constitutional rights when he tried to photograph them last summer, according to the ACLU. Officers lied when they told a photography student he needed permission to take their pictures.

The ACLU believes that with cell phone technology getting better, some police are getting worried that their actions will be preserved and used against them in ways that weren't possible just a few years ago.

Jerome Vorus, 20, was a photography student walking through Georgetown in July 2010 when he saw a traffic stop and decided to snap some picture for his portfolio. After taking a few minutes of taking pictures from the sidewalk on both sides of the street, he was asked to stop shooting and to show identification.

"They told me to put the camera away, to stop audio recording and that I am being detained ... and that it is unlawful within the District to photograph and audio record police officers without prior consent," Vorus said.

"That's part of our right of free speech, and the police ought to know that citizens can do that just as the police can take pictures of citizens out on the street," said Arthur Spitzer, of the ACLU.

The ACLU filed suit in U.S. District Court Thursday morning saying that since Vorus wasn’t interfering with police work, the officers violated his First and Fourth Amendment rights.

By holding Vorus for about an hour, police violated D.C. law, Spitzer said.

"As long as she was holding on to his ID, he was not free to just walk away," he said.

"They're nuts to detain someone simply on the basis that they're taking photos and the police doesn't like it,” Vorus said. “It’s outrageous."

Vorus said when he began recording audio of his exchange with police, he was told that also was against the law in D.C. Under D.C. law, only one person needs to consent to a recording, Spitzer said.

The lawsuit seeks compensation and punitive damages.

"I want to see police around the country know that photography is not a basis for detainment -- it is not unlawful -- and to stop harassing and abusing their authority," Vorus said.

Attorney General Irvin Nathan has 20 days to respond to the lawsuit. He said he has not seen the complaint and couldn’t comment.