SmartFrame Technologies Ltd, a London-based start-up, wants to replace jpeg images with an interactive format that makes them easier to track, easier to monetize, and harder to steal. Users can’t simply right-click images and save them. They may still be able to share photos online or by email, but only if the image owner allows that.
Wildlife photographer David Yarrow is already using the system. Prints of Yarrow’s Mankind, taken in South Sudan, start at £10,000, and last year a large framed print sold at Sotheby’s for £60,000 ($78,000). Panoramic Images, an online marketplace for photographs for commercial use, and Pixelrights, “a thriving community of photographers from all skill levels and disciplines” are also using SmartFrames.
In fact, Pixelrights – co-founded by Shaun Curry and Patryk Krupa in 2013 – developed the original system. It obviously had the potential to be used more widely, and the company raised a £1 million investment to pursue that goal.
Ultimately this has resulted in two separate companies, with each inheriting one of the original co-founders.
SmartFrame Technologies Ltd registered at Companies House in February this year, with Krupa on the board of directors, listing Pixelrights Ltd under “previous company names”. Pixelrights Ltd, with Curry on the board of directors, operates the Pixelrights website.
While the idea of replacing jpegs is a simple attention-grabber, SmartFrame’s system is a lot more complicated than posting a smartphone snapshot to Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat. There are several parts to the system.
To start with, SmartFrame images are encrypted, and can only be rendered by the SF viewer component on demand, not by any software on the user’s PC or other device.
Images are served from Amazon AWS and displayed using <canvas> in the browser, so they’re invisible to image search engines. However, tailored thumbnails can be included for search engines use, and for sharing on social networks.
In the background, SmartFrame’s SF Tracker records how images are consumed, counts any clicks, and tracks shares. It can also block undesirable websites.
The SF Control Suite prevents hot-linking and website cloning, among other things. Embedded images can be updated or revoked retrospectively.
SF Monetizer can activate banner ads or logos (with the possibility of sponsorship revenues). “Action buttons” can provide options such as “Shop” or “Buy Now”.
In the future, image providers will be able to select “hot spots” that, SmartFrame says, “can be linked directly to expanded content, webpages, videos or e-commerce stores”.
Images are managed via the SF Dashboard.
For example, a fashion photograph could have half a dozen hot-spots that provide information about items of clothing and accessories, and perhaps the opportunity to buy them.
SmartFrame says it has worked with the Digital Media Licensing Association (DMLA), Sodatech (a leading supplier of digital asset management and e-commerce platforms for photo agencies and publishers) and Digimarc (which does digital watermarking and brand protection, among other things.
Photo agencies, photographers, advertisers, publishers and other large companies are currently trying to control the use of their images in all sorts of different ways. SmartFrame is developing an off-the-shelf system that can be used without requiring advanced technical knowledge or programming skills.