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Companies partner to mark, track, monetize images in the Internet

[caption id="attachment_16655" align="alignright" width="288" caption="An image used without permission is matched up with its original."][/caption]

SAUSALITO – ImageSpan, a provider of digital image licensing software, has partnered with digital watermarking company Digimarc in what analysts say will usher in a new way to manage content on the Web.

The partnership, announced last week at a digital imaging conference in Monterey, will broaden ImageSpan's market considerably and has the potential to bring in revenues of several million annually, said ImageSpan CEO Iain Scholnick.

Seven-year-old, 16-employee ImageSpan was the first and is still the only provider of a suite of automated content licensing and management tools that simplify a complex process that has frustrated content creators and publishers since the advent of the Web.

The company initially targeted the artists and composers whose copyrighted images and sounds are often copied, sometimes innocently and sometimes with intent, for use on the Web. But with the Digimarc partnership, ImageSpan moves from the individual to the aggregate marketplace.

"The Digimarc watermarking and tracking technologies are a perfect fit with our licensing software," said Mr. Scholnick. "We each offer the components the other lacked."

Oregon-based Digimarc serves giant media companies such as Time-Life, Oxford University Press, Sony, Paramount, Warner, Yahoo, Comcast and many of the most prestigious museums in the U.S. and Europe.

The company, which watermarks currency for the U.S. government, also creates a watermark for digital images, allowing them to be tracked and found on the Web. Then its client companies decide what action to take: offer a cumbersome, time-consuming licensing procedure or threaten legal action if the images are not removed from the site.

But with ImageSpan's automated, speedy licensing suite, the chances for an outcome satisfactory to all parties is much more likely.

"We look at unauthorized use of digital content as a business opportunity rather than an infraction," said Mr. Scholnick. "And we give the artist several solutions to choose among."

If the use is bringing the creators desired attention, they may want only a credit or for traffic to be directed to a site where legitimate purchases can be made. But if the user is generating revenues from the content, a licensing agreement can be worked out on the spot, with shares directed toward each of the artists involved.

"The ImageSpan Digimarc partnership is the wave of the future for managing Web content," said Mike McGuire, a media industry analyst for Gartner.

”Traditional approaches to licensing and publishing don't work on the Web, and the Digital Rights Management solutions created by Apple and Microsoft have proved ineffective at protecting content. The emphasis was on lockdown, but the images would just come back someplace else."

The combination of ImageSpan's solution along with Digimarc's offers a business model rather than an exercise in force, he said.

The ability to turn unauthorized use of digital content into revenue streams has huge implications for the newspaper industry, archives and museums he said.

"As the pieces come together, new models emerge. This type of partnership is the new frontier of content management. It's the future."