Innovations: Picture this

1,000 words notwithstanding, how much is a stolen image worth? An Israeli duo is taking steps to fight foul play with on-line photos.

picapp 248 88 (photo credit:
picapp 248 88
(photo credit:
There may not be any guns, saloons or sheriffs, but the lawlessness of the Wild West is alive and well on the Internet. For many years, infancy was an excuse. "It's so young that no one knows what rules to make," people would say. Or you'd hear things like, "It's changing too fast to make laws. As soon as you make one law, people come up with 10 more ways of doing the same thing." Theft is so commonplace and easy on-line - music, movies, content and images are up for grabs with a few mouse clicks - that many people no longer even consider it stealing. And it is exactly this problem that prompted entrepreneurs Eyal Gura and Offir Gutelzon to create a solution that would curb piracy and allow content providers the potential to earn money without charging bloggers and publishers. The Picapp story originally started with Picscout, a content monitoring Web site that scours the Internet for files that are violating copyrighted images, founded while Gura was an undergraduate in the ZELL Entrepreneurship program five years ago. At Picscout, Gura and Gutelzon noticed that 90 percent of the copyrighted files on-line were being used illegally. The pair also noticed that traditional business models, in which content owners get a fixed licensing fee for their content, were no longer working with the on-line media world. The problem, according to Gura, is especially noticeable when it comes to rare and newsworthy articles that drive a lot of traffic and ad revenue, because a huge disparity exists between the value the content creates and the benefit the content owner receives in exchange - most often nothing. With Picapp, bloggers and publishers can access an enormous image bank for free, which solves the growing problem of finding photographs to accompany text if you're not part of the traditional media world. "Picapp allows small publishers to legally license content in an affordable way and provides an opportunity for content providers to track and monetize their content," says Gura. By now you may be wondering what the catch is. How does Picapp provide more than 20 million high-end copyrighted files from companies like Getty Images and Corbis and license them at no cost to themselves or bloggers? Therein lies the revolutionary part. By exchanging content for advertising space, they are essentially paying for the images through on-line advertising. Instead of giving publishers and bloggers an image that can be stolen or misused, Picapp provides a link that allows users to paste the image of their choice - (with an advertisement underneath) - into their page or blog. Through this link, Picapp tracks images that are being used on-line and receives revenue from the advertising rather than the bloggers or publishers having to pay for expensive rights. Starting this month, a new version of Picapp will also allow blog networks and publishers who embed images using a plug-in for wordpress to download a thumbnail without visible advertisement. When users click on the thumbnail, a new page will open. Hosted by the publisher, the advertisements will be in this page. This new feature will create more page views for networks and publishers as well as incremental revenue. The images from Picapp also include a description that has two purposes: It ensures that the images are not being misused editorially and it provides good longtail search engine optimization so that people are more likely to find the content in Google searches. "By including a description, we avoid abuse and mislabeling," says Niran Amir, the director of business development at Picapp's San Francisco office. "If someone downloads an image of Paris Hilton, they need to write about her, not Lindsay Lohan. We don't allow people to change the description because we don't want them to say that an image is from Tienanmen Square when it's really from somewhere else, for example." The content partners are happy to receive revenue for their images, which would otherwise be used illegally, and bloggers and publishers are happy to receive them legally for free. But the new concept is not without kinks. Not every blogger can use these images. If you have a wordpress blog, for example, Picapp doesn't yet allow its images to be downloaded and pasted in. And sometimes the images are slow to upload. Perhaps the bigger issue, however, is with education. For Picapp to really take off, bloggers will have to be reeducated. They've gotten used to borrowing pieces of content and assuming it's acceptable to the content owners, so they will first need to understand the new on-line rules and then be willing to share their advertising revenue with Picapp, which launched its public beta in March. "The business model of exchanging content in return for ad space is very new and still unproven, so it is up to the Picapp team to build a great, mass-distributed product in order for the monetization part to kick in and the image impressions to create sufficient revenue for the content owners," says Gura. Despite the downside of sharing ad revenue and not being able to use the images for commercial purposes, the upside of having access to high-quality images for free is an appealing one for those not connected with mainstream media. "The power of blogs is overwhelming and it's great because it gives power back to the people," says Amir. "Anyone can write about whatever they want today and at Picapp we're interested in enhancing that content with free images. And you know what they say, a picture is worth 1,000 words."