JPEG Format may change to assist rights holders

The organisation that sets technical standards for the ‘JPEG’ format that creates digital photos, has been considering introducing Digital Rights Management software (DRM) that prevents people from copying or freely distributing any files in that format.

The majority of images used on the internet are either in ‘.JPEG’ or ‘.JPG’ format. This change could potentially stop you from posting any photo on Facebook that you didn’t create yourself, or otherwise get permission for.

That is contrary to the sharing culture that has become the basis of the internet over the last decade, and digital rights groups up are now up in arms.

What’s DRM?

Currently there is nothing to prevent  anyone from making as many copies of any given file as they want. It might not be legal to republish a photographer’s images on your website, but there’s nothing technically preventing you from doing so.

DRM is software specifically made to prevent the free copying and sharing of files. It’s most commonly found in music files however it is also frequently found in games.

Images could be next on the agenda

The Joint Photographic Expert Group (JPEG) Committee, the group behind JPEG, says it is aiming to “develop a standard for realizing secure image information sharing, capable of ensuring privacy, maintaining data integrity, and protecting intellectual property rights.”

If it were implemented, and widely adopted, it could mean you’re unable to copy a photo you find on a news website, or download an image a friend posted to Facebook. This would be a drastic change in the way the internet is used.

It’s also intended to improve users’ privacy: The committee says the “proliferation of use of digital images gave also rise to a number of conflicts in terms of non-intended release of privacy information, e.g. metadata associated to a published picture that still contained geographical information that allowed to identify persons that have given anonymous interviews to journalists, or pictures posted on social media only intended for a limited audience that went public.”

As such, DRM could prevent people without the appropriate permissions from being able to access and view certain images.

JPEG Committee Convener Dr. Touradj Ebrahimi told the BBC that any changes would be opt-in. The DRM wouldn’t be in your images unless you wanted to.  “Those who are perfectly happy with today’s situation and want to have security-free image sharing [will still be able to].”

He also said that there are “no concrete plans to change the JPEG format yet, but hopes to seek technological solutions once the specifics of the new proposals have been decided,” the BBC reports.


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