Tracking Image Usage

Posted on 6/15/2015 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

LMKtag (also Lamark) has developed a relatively inexpensive system to embed tags, invisible to the naked eye, in digital images files. These tags link back to a LMKtag database that contains the image creator’s name and contact information as well as whether the image is available for licensing. The database can also include caption information and other metadata about the image and the creator can adjust this information at any time.

Not only can these tags be identified in digital files posted online, but with a special app it is also possible to take a picture of a photographic print of the image and find the embedded tag. When a tag is located the app immediately links the user back to the LMKtag database.

If the image is cropped, or was resized down to a thumbnail, the tag can usually be found in a section of the image no larger than 250px.

The company was launched in May and demonstrated its product at the CEPIC Congress in June. At the moment they have about 100,000 images in their database, but expect to reach one million very soon and have over 10 million within the next few months.

The company offers two pricing systems for this service. For someone with relatively few images that they want to track of protect the one-time fee to embed the tag is 1 Euro per image. The data related these images will remain live in the LMKtag database forever. For an agency with a collection of 100,000 images instead of a per-image fee there is a monthly charge of 500 Euros. However, the data only remains live in the LMKtag database only for as long as the agency continues to pay the monthly fee. Prices vary depending on the total number of images to be tagged, and they may be adjusted as Lamark gains more experience.

Lamark will also crawl the web and report back usage statistics both aggregated (e.g. popularity curves, popularity by country…) and detailed (when an image was seen on which website/page). They leave it their customer to determine if the usages are legitimate and to decide if they wish to pursue a settlement or not. In a lot of cases (e.g. blogs, social media) they expect that the cost of legal action might not be worth the trouble.

If this system were to become widely used, both in terms of the number of image creators using it to embed tags and the number of potential image users using it to either learn more about a particular image, or determine if it needed to be licensed for use, then it could have potential passive value in advertising the creators work. The problem in reaching this level is that if users can only find one tag in every 99 or more images they search it seems likely that users would bother to continue searching for tags.

When To Tag

It is extremely important to tag a digital file before it is widely distributed. Once the original digital file is tagged then all copies of that file will also contain the tags. But, if a photographer uploads an untagged version of an image to a site online while waiting for the tagged version to be returned to him, and that untagged version is copied and distributed, then there will be no link back to the LMKtag database.

Some photographers may choose to just tag their most popular images rather than every image in their collection. The problem here is that the only way to learn that an image is popular is to have it out where people can see it.  And all images that have already become popular will have been available in an untagged form. That raises the possibility of there being both tagged and untagged versions of a particular image online. If someone finds and copies the untagged version the information in the LMKtag database will be of little value.

On the other hand, in most cases photographers will need to deliver their images to end users quickly once they are produced and not want to wait for an image to be tagged and delivered back to them before sending it off to a customer, or making it available in the marketplace.

If some system can be devised where individual image creators can tag their own images with a unique code that identifies only the creator and the creator’s unique image number, and then upload that code and the metadata to the LMKtag database, this technology might gain wider use.

Submitting A Tagged Image To An Agent For Licensing

If the photographer has a code embedded in one of his images and then delivers a copy of that file to one or more agents to represent his work the photographer’s name and contact information will remain in the database under that image code.

In such a case it is possible for the agent (with the photographer’s permission) to also put its own tag on the image. This enables each licensor to have a different tag for the same image while always keeping the link to the photographer. This way, if a customer wanted to license use of that image, he would be put in contact with the actual source of the image he found and not just a list of all possible licensors. Of course depending on the licensing agreements, he could also be put in contact with alternative licensors through information supplied in the LMKtag database.

Currently the website is the only one with information. The website is currently in beta for Agencies. It will be opening the beta to photographers in July, with a full-featured release for Q4 2015.

Copyright © 2015 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


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