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Google Software Security Technology

Google Researchers Made An Algorithm To Delete Watermarks From Photos (venturebeat.com) 63

"Researchers at Google have found a vulnerability in the way watermarks are used by stock imagery sites like Adobe Stock that makes it possible to remove the opaque stamp used to protect copyright," writes Khari Johnson via VentureBeat. "The consistent nature in which the watermarks are placed on photos can be exploited using an algorithm trained to recognize and automatically remove watermarks." From the report: Changing the position or opacity of a watermark do not impact the algorithm's ability to remove watermarks from images with copyright protection. Randomization, the researchers say, is required to keep images from being stolen. In results presented at the Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition conference last month, subtle modifications to each watermark can make it harder to remove watermarks. With these warped watermarks, attempts to get rid of watermarks with an algorithm or photo editing software leaves noticeable marks, rendering an image useless. "As often done with vulnerabilities discovered in operating systems, applications or protocols, we want to disclose this vulnerability and propose solutions in order to help the photography and stock image communities adapt and better protect its copyrighted content and creations," research scientists Tali Dekel and Michael Rubenstein wrote in a blog post today. "From our experiments much of the world's stock imagery is currently susceptible to this circumvention." You can learn more about the different types of randomization that can be done to combat watermark removal and see more example images in Google's blog post. The full report and research is available via the project's GitHub page.
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Google Researchers Made An Algorithm To Delete Watermarks From Photos

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  • ...in 3, 2, 1.
    After all, DRM was circumvented and made public how to circumvent it. Or will Google be treated better than a normal Joe Random who happens to find a vulnerability in a commercial product?
    Bovi et Iovi, like always.

    • It's not DRM, it's attribution.

      DRM refers to technical measures to prevent unauthorised duplication and use. Removing watermarking isn't enabling the copyrighted work to be copied or used.

      • Removing watermarking isn't enabling the copyrighted work to be copied or used.

        That's exactly what it does. The watermark was to prevent practical use of the image. Sure, you can make a bit for bit copy of the hobbled version. It's the same as a trial edition of Photoshop that can be copied freely, but it becomes infringement once you use an activation crack.

  • by avandesande ( 143899 ) on Friday August 18, 2017 @09:27AM (#55040135) Journal
    Remove the entire image leaving the watermark
    • If you watch the video that's basically what it does.
      It goes through a bunch of images with the same type of watermark and isolates it, to be later used as a mask for the removal.

  • by holophrastic ( 221104 ) on Friday August 18, 2017 @09:37AM (#55040185)

    So, decades gone by, and I've never heard anyone complain about watermarks being ineffective. Google uses enormous resources to crack watermarking, and here's betting they invent watermark 2.0 next week.

    Here, pay me protection money, and I won't destroy your retail store.

    By the way, serial numbers can be filed off of guns and car parts too. The watermarks were never meant to be perfect -- in fact, it was always easy for a graphic artist to manually remove them -- about ten minutes. But it made obvious that you were crossing the line in doing so.

    • by GuB-42 ( 2483988 )

      RTFA

      Google uses enormous resources to crack watermarking, and here's betting they invent watermark 2.0 next week.

      "watermark 2.0" is right in the paper. It is nothing more than a slight warping that anyone can implement.

      The watermarks were never meant to be perfect -- in fact, it was always easy for a graphic artist to manually remove them -- about ten minutes.

      There is a link to a video of an artist doing exactly this. But as they said, it's tedious.

      • ...that anyone can implement? Like I said before, wait a week. I'll bet Google provides a "free" tool to watermark your images -- so you send every image you have to them, for free.

    • I think everyone knows they are limited in their effectiveness. The concept of watermarking as a major security system was addressed in the early 2000s when the music publishers started asking for help producing an audio equivalent. Their idea was they could kill piracy by, instead of encrypting music, placing watermarks on it instead that would be detected by operating systems, CD burners, etc, which would in turn refuse to copy that music.

      It failed for a couple of reasons, one of which was the logistic

    • It's unlikely that this is the end goal of their research. Google does a lot of machine vision research, and this was probably just a side project related to some of the other stuff they're doing. They didn't spend "enormous resources". They had 4 researchers working on it, and this is what else they worked on:

      http://people.csail.mit.edu/ta... [mit.edu]
      http://people.csail.mit.edu/mr... [mit.edu]
      http://people.csail.mit.edu/ce... [mit.edu]
      https://billf.mit.edu/ [mit.edu]

      Basically, the common theme teaching computers to identify components in photog

      • ...and not a single one of those things has improved my life with my family. The credit that I give to them is that they've profited from all of it, a lot.

  • Something Useful (Score:5, Interesting)

    by eyepeepackets ( 33477 ) on Friday August 18, 2017 @09:39AM (#55040197)

    If Google wants to do something really useful as regards images, they can make a way for me to block or otherwise remove images with watermark from search results. These watermark images are a growing plague that pollutes image searching.

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Yeah, Google... stop making my job of stealing someone else's IP more difficult! :)

      • by Cederic ( 9623 )

        Well, lets say I want to link to an image of a bridge here on Slashdot, so that someone can see a fine example of cantilever beams.

        I could link some shitty fucked up watermarked photo, or I could link to a picture someone's posted on their blog.

        At no point am I stealing anybody's IP

    • by cjmnews ( 672731 )

      If Google wants to do something really useful as regards images, they can make a way for me to block or otherwise remove images with watermark from search results. These watermark images are a growing plague that pollutes image searching.

      Just add -stockphoto and the other sites that have watermarks to your search criteria to ignore them.

  • by Tomahawk ( 1343 ) on Friday August 18, 2017 @09:42AM (#55040215) Homepage

    I suppose adding a watermark containing or based on the hash of the original image would suffice to randomise it. How this is applied is open to any number of ways, such as adding a QR code, or a 2D barcode, or warping the watermark according to an algorithm based on the hash. That should be random enough to mess with the removal algorithm.

  • By removing the water mark you are effectively infringing the copyright
    • Only if you distribute or publish it in same way afterward. Otherwise, you can look at it all you want

      That's separate from whether this will be considered anti-circumvention under the DMCA, which would make this as illegal in the US as DVD ripping software (when it bypasses CSS).

  • I would love to have this technology for video. Anything to turn off those annoying network bugs while watching TV would be nice. Even if this can't be done in real time right now, having it in MythTV to clean up recordings would be really nice.

    At least they don't put the stupid bugs on the video on DVDs. (How long until they try that?)

    • I don't mind those as much as the giant animated banner ads that some networks use after coming back from commercial - overlaid right on the content.

    • I would love to have this technology for video. Anything to turn off those annoying network bugs while watching TV would be nice.

      It was those graphics that essentially got me to stop watching commercial TV.

      • by mccrew ( 62494 )

        It was those graphics that essentially got me to stop watching commercial TV.

        Oh, yeah? Well, I don't even own a television. [theonion.com]

    • Getting rid of the static, semi-transparent station logos is trivial. You just get a clean copy of the logo and position it on a new layer and find the difference.
      Plugins exist to do this.

      Unfortunately, it's not possible to cleanly get rid of the giant TV-MA or whatever rating at the top left, or the absurd promos for other shows that intrude on the show you're watching.

  • to filter out Pintrest image search spam?

  • Watermark software will just have to become more involved to get around this, such as randomizing/distorting size and density of watermarks. Watermarks will become like Captcha's.

    • Pointless to randomize size and density, just fill the mask with noise and hey presto, good luck subtracting random noise from an image. Although, some neural network techniques are pretty good at repainting entire image or just parts of it.
  • Welcome to the mid 90s, Google.

    I remember using plugins for VirtualDub that did the same thing with video.
    All you need to do is recreate a decent representation of the watermark, and the plugin simply subtracts it from the video.
    Bonus points if you dynamically handle opacity so you can handle fade in and fade out.

    This was done to remove semi-transparent station logos from the bottom right of TV broadcast recordings.

  • As an artist, this really bothers me.

    As a software engineer, I've long known that watermarks can be removed by the diligent or the intentionally malicious. However, now that Google is doing it, those who infringe my works can now claim that the infringement is not intentional - which substantially reduces the penalties for copyright infringement, and increases the incentive to violate copyright.

    Google, it seems, has not considered the ethical implications of many of its recent decisions. Without the

  • Another method that I've... err.. come across:
    Since stock photographers try to maximize their exposure (pun not intended, but noted), the put up their images on a bunch of stock photo sites, each site has its own watermark, usually in a different location, so if you google image search the watermarked image, you can fill in the watermarked areas from those other images.

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