Authenticating And Protecting Cell Phone Images

Posted on 6/18/2015 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

Suppose there was a smartphone app that automatically sent every image capture to the cloud and stored all the metadata including date, time and exact location down to within 100 feet or less of where the picture was taken. (Also imagine if camera manufacturers built that into cameras.)

This app only stores raw, un-manipulated images. It will not accept files that have been manipulated in the phone after capture, or captured by any other device that does not have a direct connection to the cloud at the time of capture.  

Each image would be stored in your account. You would be able to set up folders in that account and make access to each separate folder public or private. The default upload would be to your private account. Anyone with password access to your account could move photos into the public account. There could be two types of public account folders. One would allow for unlimited free use of the image with credit (Creative Commons license). Images in the other folder would require licensing.

For images found in folders that require licensing it would be possible with a single click to reveal the name of the creator and contact information for licensing usage rights. Anyone who prefers not to expose personal contact information in such an open search could make arrangements for a trusted intermediary to be the contact. The intermediary would handle negotiations and all communications with potential users.

In all likelihood, most images found in this manner would require post processing. A copy of any image could be downloaded for processing, or manipulating, but it would not be possible to ever overwrite the original or upload a corrected version. Any image could be deleted from your account at any time, but never re-uploaded.


Using Google, Bing or other search engines anyone could search all the public accounts for photos taken at a particular location and date range. If they find a photo they want to use they would have the option of downloading the photo and using it, or contacting the creator and licensing the use.

Whenever an image is downloaded the app would store the URL where it is sent. In this way the image creator could track potential uses.

If the user needs a processed image the creator could either allow the user to do the processing, or make arrangements to supply a processed image.

This system would make it easy for legitimate news organization to find images of events that could be legally used and to check back with creators to determine if there are restrictions on how the image could be used.

If the customer finds an image from another source, but wants to check its provenance or locate its creator, a visual image search could be used. Rather than searching all sites on the Internet and potentially finding many sites that had used the image this search tool should only search cloud sites that have been designed to store raw, un-manipulated images. In this way information about the original creator of such images would be easily available.

Unfortunately, this would not help image creators using SLRs or other none mobile connected devices, but it might be an incentive for SLR manufacturers to add mobile upload connectivity to their devices.

Legal Protection

From a legal point of view such a site would be invaluable in proving ownership as well as showing the original unchanged, unedited, untouched state of each image captured, along with totally accurate metadata.

Editorial users would be able to determine the accuracy of any caption information supplied with images they want to use and also see if the file delivered to them (at least if it were shot with a smartphone) had been manipulated in any way.

In the event that an unauthorized use of an image was discovered the image creator could just point the court to his folder of images that require licensing, prove that the image was in the folder prior to the use (images can be moved from the creators private folder to public licensing folder at any time), and show that there had been no payment made or permission given to use the image.

In the United States this would eliminate the need for future copyright registration, but we would have to drag our legislators and court systems out of the twentieth century.   

Dead Zones

All this assumes that your phone is never in a dead zone with no wireless access. One thought is that the image would be stored until you come back into cell range, but then the GPS might be where you are instead of where the image was actually shot.

However, a better technological solution is on the horizon. Elon Musk of Tesla Motors and SpaceX fame plans to build a vast network of communication satellites that will orbit about 750 miles above the earth. This network will do two things: speed up the general flow of data on the Internet and deliver high-speed, low-cost Internet services from virtually every location on earth. In theory the speed would rival that of fiber optic cables.

In addition, Greg Wyler expects to have a competing system called OneWeb up and running by 2018.
It is time for someone to build such an app and for camera manufacturers to design their next releases so the camera can, at least, upload a low resolution of each capture to the cloud. The camera would continue to store a high res version of the file in the usual way. The cloud version would simply be used as backup and for authentication.

Some believe that initial versions of the cloud storage technology will be introduced before the end of 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:  


  • Nancy e. Wolff Posted Jun 18, 2015
    Hi Jim:

    Nancy Wolff here. This sounds just like the old "poor man's copyright" where you used to mail a copy of your screenplay to yourself to establish the date you created something. It confused writers about the importance of registration. . Establishing ownership is only one aspect of a copyright infringement case. In the US, without a valid copyright registration, you can't go to court, ask for statutory damages and can't ask for attorney's fees. So no registry will replace copyright registration and enforcement. I would not want photographers to believe that registration could be replaced.

    Registries do have a purpose, being found so those that want to license can license.

    That's it..Nancy

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