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Work from 10×8 on Show at The Cass

From the Digital Project 10x8

This C-TYPE print, 10×8 Crop No. 1 is cropped from the final collection of 80 images produced on the project: 10×8

Following on from the successful M_INT show at The Cass Gallery in Whitechapel High Street, work from the 10×8 project is once again on display. A small exhibition of work from MA Photography at The Cass is on show at The Cass School of Art, Central House, 59-62 Whitechapel High Street London E1 during the month of April 2013. Included in this work is 10×8 Crop No. 1 and Image Search both taken from the 10×8 project in collaboration with 10 artists and 1 musician. The Show is open daily 9am-8pm.

Image Search in MA Show

MA Photography and MA Fine Art Interim Show

The first printed work from the 10×8 project, Image Search will be shown in the MA Photography and MA Fine Art Interim Exhibition at The Sir John Cass Facutly of Art, Architecture and Design, 11th-16th March 2013.

A private view will be held on Thursday March 14th 5pm-8.30pm at The Cass Gallery. The evening will also be a fundraiser for staging the students’ degree show in September. Events on the night will include a Silent Auction of work by students, staff and established artists, the M_INT photo booth which promises to offer a creative alternative to the photo booth portrait, live music and raffles with prizes ranging from photo books to theatre tickets.

Over 20 students will be showing work in the exhibition. More details can be found at M_INT

Copyright Update – US Case Dennis Morris v Russell Young et al

Sid Vicious and Johnny Rotten on stage with the Sex Pistols
Sex Pistols by Dennis Morris

In the most recent high-profile case relating to photo copyright infringement in the United Sates, Dolly Gee, a US District Court Judge last week found in favour of the photographer Dennis Morris in a case brought against appropriation artist Russell Young.

Young had used a photograph taken by Morris of The Sex Pistols which Morris had included in photographic books Nevermind the B*ll*cks: A Photographic record of The Sex Pistols Tour (United Kingdom, 1991) and Destroy: Sex Pistols 1977 (United Kingdom, 1998). The images Young created are entitled Sex Pistols, Sex pistols in Red and Sex Pistols+White Riot.

Young argued that he had found the original images on the Web and they did not have any copyright notices. To qualify for copyright protection, a work must be original and include some creativity. It is generally accepted that photographs do include some level of creativity. The fact that the images appeared on the Web without attribution does not undermine Morris’ authorship and ownership.

US law allows for fair use of a copyrighted work for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching…scholarship or research. There are four factors used in determining fair use: the purpose and character of the use, the nature of the copyrighted work, the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole and the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

For the purpose and character of the work, the central factor is whether the new work merely supersedes the original work or it is in fact transformative i.e. adds new meaning. Because the new images are very similar to the original and because the court decided that Young did not intend any distinct purpose or message in creating the work it was found that the work was not transformative.

The nature of the copyrighted work is to do with “if” and “how” the work has been previously published. Because the photograph had been published in two books, Young argued that his use was a fair one, however the court ruled that this publication of the photograph only impacted slightly. The amount and substantiality of the portion of the image used refers to using only enough of the image to make the point that the artist is intending. In this case virtually the whole of the image is used by Young. With regards to the effect upon the potential market, the court decided that in this case there could be an overlap of audience for both the original and the appropriated image. The court decided that the appropriation of the images by Young were not in line with fair use.

With regards to White Riot + Sex Pistols also using the appropriated image, the court found that other elements were added to the final image in order to convey a different meaning so it would come under fair use. However, because the other two works were not considered fair use the judge ruled in favour of Morris.

Images of Screen Prints by Russell Young:
White Riot + Sex Pistols

Sex Pistols

Image by Dennis Morris:
Sex Pistols Backstage Marquee Club

The Order on Judgement for Summary Motion can be found here: Doc 29.

The Story or The Illustration: Searching Images on The Web

Photo of fork and bowl after the work of André Kértesz

Google Image Search on a photo from 10×8: Fork and Bowl After André Kértesz.

Currently about 200 billion digital images are held between three social sites alone: Facebook, Flickr and Instagram. As the digital image explosion on the internet continues unabated, the race to classify, store and make images accessible gathers pace. For many years text-based image retrieval systems have been used to catalogue digital images through associated keywords. While this is adequate for many users especially individuals cataloguing their family and friends photos, researchers believe the system will not support the full potential of new developments in technology. Researchers refer to the process as “categorisation of the visual world” and they admit that that the categorisation of objects and scenes, a fundamental human ability, is an important yet elusive goal for computer vision research.

For the past couple of years, Google and several other search operators like TinyEye and Digimarc have offered Image searches, which, as Google suggests are good for identifying “places, art and even mysterious creatures”. These searches are most useful if you have an image of a place or an artwork or perhaps a strange insect that you have snapped on your smart phone and would like to identify. It works well if you are looking for websites that may be displaying copies of your own images. You can just upload the image and the search will give you some matches.

Matching images as described above is one step forward, but what about the computer actually reading the image? Search-based image annotation is one method used by computer vision and machine learning communities. Currently ImageNet is the world’s largest visual database and one which is being used by many technologists as they teach machines to see like humans. The process of classification involves using WordNet, alexical database of English and an army of Amazonian Turks or Mechanical Turks as Amazon refers to them. These turks, or workers as they were once called, look at the images being stored in ImageNet and classify each image with regards to the object that it signifies. So begins the process of teaching a machine to see.

ImageNet was built by computer scientists at Princeton University in the USA and currently holds 14m images and more. In a recent New York Times article, John Markoff, in referring to the development of ImageNet suggests that “ while the Internet has given rise to a mountainous digital haystack of imagery, it also offers a path to clarity”, or does it? The ImageNet system may work for objects represented by the many nouns in the WordNet database, but what about the long-tail? What about searching for an image that represents what I am trying to express in words, or an image an artist has created that balances on the edge of the digital haystack?

According to a Microsoft Research Asia group there is still quite a bit of work to do with Content Based Image Recognition Systems. In an article this group published a couple of years ago, they suggested that “The challenges include how to construct a representative visual vocabulary, how to efficiently find relevant images for a long query, and how to compute “PageRank” for images for cache design and quality improvement.”  Microsoft Researchers say that each image has a “salient object”. The difficulty they say is in differentiating the salient object from the background simply on appearances. All of this may work well when we are talking about the image as an illustration of the story, but what happens if the image is The Story? Is there a danger here that the simplification of reading an image could lead us down the wrong track? As the oft-quoted László Maholy-Nagy said “ the illiterate of the future will be the person ignorant of the use of the camera as well as the pen.” As our communication becomes more visual, our technology must rise to the challenge. We need to teach our machines to be able to use a camera as well as a pen if we want to see The Story and not just the illustration.



Copyright and images on The Web

The dissemination of digital photography on the world wide web like the dissemination of other creative work in this way brings with it the whole question of copyright. Who owns what? How do you manage it? Can you be paid for the use of your images?

Recent high-profile copyright news springs to mind; Shepard Fairey, Richard Prince, more recently Instagram and the weird web work of Hera Bell. Sherrie Levine made her mark in a pre-digital age with After Walker Evans. Levine was in the forefront of the post modern rush to appropriate. Now, accelerated by the digital era, appropriation is practically a genre of its own. The genie is out.

Richard Prince’s Canal Zone Series used photographs taken by French photographer Patrick Cariou which were published in Cariou’s book Yes, Rasta in 2000. Judge Deborah Batts rejected the defence of Prince and his gallery, the Gagosian in New York that what constituted Prince’s manipulations was “fair use”. Batts in fact found that in order for a work to meet the “transformative” prong of the fair use test, it must “in some way comment on, relate to the historical context of, or critically refer back to the original works”, as reported by Charlotte Burns in The Art Newspaper 21st March 2011.

Predictably, Prince and the Gagosian appealed and we now await a verdict on the most recent hearing. Rachel Corbett in Blouin ArtInfo 29th August 2012 interviewed Columbia University law professor Philippa Loengard about this case. Loengard thinks it’s “very unlikely” that the judges will uphold the lower court’s decision in its entirety. “This fair use precedent [Blanch v Koons 2005] would lead the judges to determine that Prince’s paintings are transformative and that the markets for the two artists are so disparate that Prince didn’t cause Cariou any financial harm. So far, the current judges “don’t seem to think there was market harm, that they weren’t really competitors, so this factor really sways toward Prince,” Loengard said. “But I still think there will be an infringement.”

More recently I came across the strange case of Hera Bell. I was looking at a forum in an online photography magazine and came across extensive comments on Hera Bell referring to her appropriation or more specifically the “stealing” of images. I then found this site Who Took This Photo?

My first thoughts were that it was an interesting conceptual piece, but on further investigation I think that it is perhaps just a case of a photographer in Montreal “borrowing” images from other websites and posting them under her own name to “help” publicise her own practice. She did, however, alter the images, flipping them horizontally etc. Would that be “transformative” enough to pass the fair use test?

The most recent big news event in the area of image copyright concerns Instagram, the photo sharing site owned by Facebook. Instagram had proposed changing their terms and conditions to include their right to sell on Instagram users’ photos without any compensation to them. There was, however a vocal response from users. So much so, that Instagram have now back-tracked slightly, I understand. But cyberworld marches on. In reading blogs about this topic, I have noticed several comments which suggest that users would be pleased to have their 15 minutes from the use of one of their images in a big ad campaign and they are not bothered about compensation. With the advertising photographers out of business perhaps it’s the turn of the advertising agencies as well.

In the words of web guru Jaron Lanier in Edge, “There’s a sense of, if you’re adding to the network, do you expect anything back from it? And since we’ve been hypnotized in the last eleven or twelve years into thinking that we shouldn’t expect anything for what we do with our hearts or our minds online, we think that our own contributions aren’t worth money, very much like we think we shouldn’t be paid for parenting, or we shouldn’t be paid for raking our own yard. In those cases you are paid in a sense because there’s still something that becomes part of you in your life, for all that you did. But in this case we have this idea that we put all this stuff out there and what we get back are intangible or abstract benefits of reputation, or ego-boosting. Since we’re used to that bargain, we’re impoverished compared to the world that could have been and should have been when the Internet was initially conceived.”

The interesting thing I find with Web 2.0 is that the target audience rapidly became young people. People, young enough not to have much experience in trading the work they do with their hearts and minds in order to put a roof over their own or their family’s head. The network builders or as Lanier refers to them, “those close to the servers”, have exploited this inexperience. So much so, that the suggestion that you would be compensated for the ideas and effort you put into creative work is becoming alien and as those ”close to the servers” continue to chip away at old fashioned notions of compensation for work done, the deferred benefits of “when I am well-known” may well and truly be deferred.

Lanier is a member of the Cyberati himself, but that doesn’t stop him from having a critical point of view, “If we enter into the kind of world that Google likes, the world that Google wants, it’s a world where information is copied so much on the Internet that nobody knows where it came from anymore, so there can’t be any rights of authorship. However, you need a big search engine to even figure out what it is or find it. They want a lot of chaos that they can have an ability to undo.”

“It should be pointed out that the original design of the Internet didn’t have even a copy function, because it originally just seemed stupid. If you have a network, why would you copy something? That’s just inefficiency.” And there, I believe, is the crux of the problem for digital photography. With the copy facility available how does a photographer control the use of their images on the www? The simple answer would be not to put them there in the first place. Perhaps there is some sense in that and certainly uploading only lo res images is important but it is unrealistic for professional photographers and artists not to be a part of the cyber community.

The industry, in my opinion has been slow to respond, compared to other industries like music and film. Useful tools are coming online. Where would the sleuths that uncovered Hera Bell’s work be if it wasn’t for the likes of TinyEye, Digimarc and Google Image Search. Tools like Fotomoto could prove useful. The UK government has introduced a fastrack for intellectual property disputes which can now be resolved through small claims in the Patents County Court. This is new so the effectiveness of such a system remains to be seen, similarly with the new Digital Copyright Exchange (DCE) that is in the process of being scoped. But the photographic industry itself has to be out there campaigning.

Now that “everyone is a photographer” what better time to remind people why we have Intellectual Property Rights, what they are and how they work. In the words of lawyer and author, Professor Robert Merges from the University of California in Justifying Intellectual Property 2011, “In an economy where intangible assets are more valuable than ever, IP is more important than ever.” Merges argues quite eloquently that property rights granted for creative work are not barriers to a cohesive society but in fact knit a society together. I think he sums it up well in his paraphrasing of Oliver Wendell Holmes: “IP taxes are the price we pay for a creative civilization.”

Digital Smiles

Now that we have covered all known objects with imagery, and neatly categorised all of those images, what next?

Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

Flower Images Stored on a Flickr Server

Current estimates of the number of digital images stored on servers of major websites:
• 140 billion photos on Facebook
• 6 billion on Flickr
• 4 billion on Instagram