Some call PLUS "the largest evolutionary step for the imaging industry since the internet arrived", while others remain wary of yet another system designed to simplify image licensing. David Hoffman, a moderator on the Editorial Photographers UK and Ireland website and an advocate for the system in the UK, explains why he thinks it is so important professional photographers sign up for the PLUS registry.
Since the arrival of digital photography, the problem of images getting separated from their maker's contact information has grown exponentially. Bylines are omitted, information embedded in the image file is deleted and there's no way to rubber-stamp your name on the back of a JPEG file.
The difficulty of discovering an image's owner is an excuse and an encouragement for copyright infringement. The cost of attributing and licensing images leads some publishers to use work unlawfully and others to reduce their use of photographs taken by professionals.
There's been considerable discussion on the Editorial Photographers UK and Ireland (EPUK) website of a new system that will permanently link images to their owners with an invisible web of connections. This will also make it simple for image users to locate the owners, manage the rights those owners have granted and manage large numbers of licences simultaneously.
It's called PLUS (Picture Licensing Universal System), and the multilingual global licensing module has already been running successfully for three years, generating standardised licences to fit virtually every need without charge.
PLUS is a not-for-profit organisation. It won't make sales or engage in the commercial market. That makes it unattractive to takeovers. Better still, it means that any other registries that organisations choose to set up for profit will have to offer some added value in order to attract paying customers. That should lead to competitive offers of add-on services (keywording or infringement tracking for instance) for all of us.
PLUS' systems are open for connection with other registries. If you register with PLUS and later want to work with some other registry, then that registry will connect seamlessly with your contact info on the PLUS servers.
In essence, PLUS is designing an ecosystem in which an electronic network of agencies, museums, art buyers, photographers and representative organisations each benefit from the presence of the others in a move to civilise the dog-eat-dog jungle we have now. It helps towards creating a level playing field that makes co-operation in building business easier than undermining each other to gain an advantage.
Now PLUS is opening up its creators database for photographers to enter their name and contact details into a permanent database that will soon also link to their images by using techniques that include ownership data written into the file, an invisible watermark and image recognition. Any one of those will lock that image permanently to its owner.
Imagine a designer pointing their phone at an image they want to use. The image is uploaded to the PLUS database, the owner's contact is linked and the publisher they're working for automatically sends an email to the image owner with an offer and draft licence.
Imagine a publisher with a folder filled with images for a project, they upload them to PLUS and each copyright owner gets a standardised draft licence agreement in their own language. Imagine a photographer seeing a suspected infringement. They click on the image and get a list of all the registered licensed uses.
These are components of a sustainable ecosystem that works for each because it works for all. But it can only happen if all the players give it a chance, become a part of it and are willing to support it.
Publishers, software manufacturers and agencies are already taking part. It's time for photographers to get on board and play their part in shaping our future. All those who benefit from PLUS will eventually need to find the cash to cover its running costs, but for now you can register your name and contact info with PLUS free.
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