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EMBEDDING IMAGES: THE LEGAL WAY TO STEAL

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EMBEDDING IMAGES: THE LEGAL WAY TO STEAL

Written by Guido Koppes & Tatjana van der Krabben, guest authors of Copytrack.com

Ever wondered how to use protected images without permission, without payment of royalties or even giving credit to the creator? The European Union allows you to do exactly that, provided you do so via embedding. Rightly, creators and content providers refuse to accept this legal loophole. However, they are not just dinosaurs failing to embrace progress, this is major problem where legislation is lagging behind.

Embedding

Embedding, also referred to as inline linking, framing, and, typically when applied without permission, hot-linking, allows you to make content visible on multiple webpages via the original location. By means of a link to the original website of an image, but also text or video, can be shown on another website without affecting copyright.

The embedded content acts as an inserted window to the website where the content is hosted: the content appears to be part of a third party’s webpage, but is in fact retrieved and loaded via the original website where it is hosted. In 2014 the Court of Justice of the European Union has ruled that the embedding of protected content without permission constitutes no copyright infringement*.

Embedding without permission is legal in the EU

Normally, when copyright applies, the creator is in control of what can and cannot be done with his work. The creator is the person who decides where his work is published and whether royalties need to be paid for the use of their work. The problem is that embedding is legal in the European Union, with or without permission. This has opened a door to legally using protected images without paying royalties. Whoever posts content online has no legal means to counteract hot-linking.

The technical details regarding the embedding of content greatly influence the legal side of it. Embedding acts like a link to the original content. To embed content, copying or downloading the content is not required. Embedding therefore does not create an illegal copy. The content is not published elsewhere: you are in fact viewing the original via a link. Strictly speaking, embedding only increases the visibility of the original. This circumstance has led to the conclusion that embedding is in accordance with copyright laws and is therefore allowed. Even without permission.

Why embedding without permission should not be legal

Embedded images are used in exactly the same way as purchased images. You may reason that the embedded content is not actually posted on another website, as brought forward in the above-mentioned case law, but it is visible elsewhere. And is so for a reason. The image is obviously not randomly selected and displayed, but is functional to the content in which it is embedded and as such adds value to it. The image is being used for profit, without permission or a mention, and without paying royalties. According to creators and stock photo agencies the impact of embedding protected images without permission is therefore no different than that of creating and publishing illegal copies of protected work.

By allowing the embedding of protected content a situation has been created that seems contrary to the whole point behind copyright laws; it limits the protection of creator rights. Embedding is a legal solution with illegal characteristics: it is the legal way to steal images.

Embedding and bandwidth theft

Embedding not only affects copyright issues. The embedded content is not multiplied, but is retrieved and loaded via the website where it is hosted. When retrieving and loading web content bandwidth is being used. Bandwidth use is not free and is also limited for most websites. When that limit is reached because of embedded content, the website owner literally has to pay the price for the additional bandwidth use, or the website may be taken offline. Embedding can lead to a situation where the creator actually has to pay for the unauthorised use of his works; a bizarre side effect of the European legislation with respect to embedded content.

The distinction between embedding with permission versus embedding without permission (hotlinking) is important. YouTube, for instance, consciously and explicitly offers the option of embedding content. YouTube is well aware that running heavy video files via your website or blog greatly affects the loading time of a webpage and the website’s bandwidth use. To make the sharing of video (with added paid ads) more appealing, their website is designed to support embedding and is able to process the bandwidth use that comes with that. The average website is but a dwarf compared to an online heavyweight like YouTube and will therefore reach the limits of its maximum bandwidth use far sooner.

Unauthorised use of images: no small matter

The unauthorised use of protected images is already out of control. Take for instance the example below: that image can be found on 21,000,000 online pages, yet has only been purchased 4 times. There is no balance.

Of course that number of hits in this Google search result includes the official channels where this image is shown for promotional purposes, like stock photo agencies, but a few dozen functional hits is but a fraction of the total of available views for that photo.

This case is not unique. Photographers, stock photo agencies: it happens to any creator or seller of images. A watermark offers little protection against hot-linking. Any watermark is rendered useless by shrinking the image to the point where it becomes virtually invisible. Now consider that a stock photo agency offers millions of images. The loss of turnover is huge.

Embedding is a stealthy phenomenon. It managed to stay under the radar for a long time, hidden among a lengthy list of hits when researching the online use of images. Because where does one begin assessing and addressing unauthorised use, when you find dozens or in some cases even millions of hits per image? Hard data regarding the occurrence of hot-linking are currently lacking. Yet now is the time to address the issue. The industry is already at the point where it cannot afford a further increase of unauthorised and unpaid use of protected images, but that is exactly what is about to happen.

The practice of embedding is increasing

Vincent van den Eijnde, director of the government run organization Pictoright that help author’s and visual creators with their rights for visual creators in the Netherlands, believes that hot-linking is still a latent problem: “People have not yet caught up with the legal facts. Once the word truly gets out, the damage will become really great really fast.”

Van den Eijnde’s estimate seems realistic. Even without hard data it is a safe guess that high volume users of ‘free images’, such as bloggers, mostly still pick images with a Creative Commons license and illegal downloads, depending on the level of knowledge of and respect for copyright laws. When you do an online search for royalty-free or free images, you still primarily find information about the public domain and copyright laws. The moment online searches of that type start yielding information about embedding content in the top results, the practice of hot-linking is expected to really take off.

Hotlinking is not new, but knowledge of it used to be limited to a relatively small group of people with more in-depth knowledge of html, mostly web builders. Through the publicity surrounding the above mentioned case law, knowledge regarding hot-linking is spreading little by little, together with the realization that it is legal in the European Union. The fact that hot-linking offers legal access to an infinitely larger pool of images than otherwise available for free use obviously is a great incentive to resort to embedding: this is a growth scenario in the making. And anyone can do it: step-by-step instructions on embedding in html are easily found online.

The consequences of unauthorised use of images rack of and follow up on illegal publication and use of their protected works. Now hotlinking is adding to the amount of unauthorised use, which, on top of that, simply has to be put up with at this point. Excessive unauthorised use leads not only to missed royalties per use. The increased visibility of works poses another problem. Images which can already be viewed ‘everywhere’, lack exclusivity and uniqueness, and are of less value to potential clients. Unauthorised use of protected images makes the value of entire portfolios and catalogues subject to inflation.

Work that remains unpaid on an ever-larger scale, leads to increased financial damages and eventually to a decrease of high quality works. After all, it is not realistic to continue to involuntarily make works available to the public and at the same time continue to invest in the creation of high quality images. The aspect of investment in the creation of photos and images is often overlooked or trivialised. The reality is that a photographer works with expensive equipment, has travel expenses and spends many hours creating images. That one photo the public gets to view, is preceded by an extensive process. When going through that process ceases to be profitable, more and more photographers will be forced to discontinue their business, in the process limiting the selection stock photo agencies are able offer.

Image creators face a catch-22

“So, then don’t put your work online.”

If creators would get a Euro for every time they hear that… This line of reasoning is obviously void of logic. Every serious entrepreneur can be found online and shows (examples of) his portfolio. Consumers are ever more visually oriented. Words are therefore to be enforced by images. A baker not only describes his assortment, but also aims to work up your appetite with visuals. A clothing brand shows what look you can create with items from their collection. Photographers show images to indicate what type of work they have to offer. This is how you do business nowadays.

Online visibility is essential to even get the opportunity to showcase your work online. In order to be found via search engines and find new clients, you need to aim for the top search results for relevant keywords in search engines (SEO). In order to achieve this, you need to post strong content online, and regularly add to or update that content. A photographer simply cannot avoid the online posting of high quality works. Moreover, stock photo agencies serve as a web shop for photos and images and therefore have no other option but to display everything they have to offer.

Technological developments vs. legislation

Creators and stock photo agencies have obviously been put at a disadvantage by the above-mentioned court rulings, but they beg to differ that this ends the debate on the lawfulness of hotlinking. In that case law the focus has been on the technical details, where, in short, it was deducted that embedding does not represent publication to a new audience. The consequences of hotlinking have since become more apparent. The focus of the debate has therefore now shifted to the question whether the effects of the embedding of protected images, as felt by the creators, is in the spirit of copyright laws.

Technology evolves at a rapid pace, whereas legislation moves much slower, but in the end laws can change. Industry organisations such as European Visual Artists (EVA) and Centre of the Picture Industry (CEPIC) therefore focus their efforts to raise awareness regarding the downsides of hotlinking for the industry on the European Parliament, especially now that there are new European directives in the making.

Sylvie Fodor, director of CEPIC, says that several members of parliament who have in-depth knowledge of copyright, following from their background in journalism or the cultural sector, have already been convinced of the negative consequences of allowing the hotlinking of images. Furthermore, some encouraging amendments have been put forward, which would encompass embedding. CEPIC has also presented their views on the draft-directive proposed by the European Commission and how it can be improved to cover embedding in an official public hearing of the Committee on Legal Affairs (JURI). Fodor thinks that there is a slight chance that legislation will be changed within the present negotiations on copyright in ‘Brussels’.

Protecting images against hotlinking

At the moment the only way to counteract hotlinking is online protection of content, using .htaccess. Through .htaccesshotlinking to images can be blocked or a redirect can be created which shows an alternative image (switcheroo) on the webpage where the hotlink was placed. A switcheroo can for instance be used to display an image with a message that embedding is not appreciated. Your own website will remain intact and will display the correct image.

But when you ask image creators that is not the type of protection they seek in the first place. According to them, what is needed, first and foremost, is a legal ban on unauthorised embedding of protected images, by treating it like illegal copying and downloading. After all, the effect of embedding protected images is equal to that of illegal copying and downloading: the image is being displayed without payment of royalties, which would otherwise not have been allowed, resulting in financial loss.

COPYTRACK’s TIP

At Copytrack we see linking images as a frustrating loophole in the law that makes theft legal. It is possible to demand compensation when your images are linked without permission for commercial gain, however this can be tricky to prove. We advise photographers to leave copyright notices by all of your works. Let people know that you are clued up about your rights and ready to back them up! Tracking your images is also the perfect way to keep on top of where your works are popping up.

Business

October furlough changes – what you need to know

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October furlough changes – what you need to know 1

By Alan Price, employment law expert and CEO of BrightHR

The Job Retention Scheme is coming to an end on 31 October, and in its final month, there are some significant changes to its funding that employers and employees need to be aware of.

When it was first implemented, the scheme was funded entirely by the government. However, since 1 August, the government has contributed less to the scheme, meaning employers have had to put more of their funds into furloughed staff wages to ensure they continue to earn at least 80% of their salary for the time in which they do not work.

From 1 October, the government will only provide 60% of this payment; employers will need to top up the remaining 20% themselves. They will also need to continue paying employee national insurance and employer pension contributions.

As has been the case since July, furloughed staff can still be asked to return to work on a part-time basis. However, employers need to pay them in full for the hours that they work. They can also be removed from the scheme if the employer deems it necessary, which includes making them redundant.

Once the scheme ends on 31 October, it will be replaced by a new government-funded system of support, the Job Support Scheme, on 1 November. This scheme will be slightly different to the furlough scheme and is designed to support jobs that are not entirely dependent on government funds.

Under the Job Support Scheme, employees will work at least one-third of their normal working hours. The government and the employer will then each provide pay for one-third of the number of hours in which they do not work, meaning all employees on the scheme will receive at least 77% of their normal wages. The government’s contribution will be capped at £697.92 per month.

For example, an employee who normally works five days a week and earns £350 per week. Under the Job Support Scheme, they will work 40% of normal working hours (two days a week). The percentage of hours lost is 60% (worth £210). The employer pays £140 for hours worked, and a further £70 (one-third of hours lost). The government will pay £70 (one-third of hours lost). The employee receives £280 in total per week.

All companies will be eligible to make use of this; however, larger businesses will need to pass specific financial tests. Companies will also not need to have furloughed staff previously.

Employers will be able to claim a reimbursement for employee wages from December 2020 via an online portal.

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Turning a Critical Eye on Impersonation Scams

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Turning a Critical Eye on Impersonation Scams 2

By Mike Kiser, security strategist and evangelist at SailPoint

“The criminal is the creative artist; the detective only the critic.”

— G.K. Chesterton

Impersonation Crime as Art

The recent findings by UK Finance that impersonation scams are up 84 per cent compared to the same period last year shows that criminals have seen the opportunity that Covid-19 has presented over the past six months. Convincing the unwary to hand over financial information and payments requires not only research and creativity, but a large volume of potential targets. Covid-19 has created just such a field ripe for harvest by bad actors.

This is largely due to the acceleration of digital life. As many of us have been subject to stay-at-home orders for the past half year or so, we’ve tried to find various activities to keep us busy. Some have taken up new activities such as baking bread or needlework, others have taken on long-planned renovations to our flats or learned how to garden. These new past times share the benefit of being firmly planted in the real world at a time when almost everything else is an online interaction. Work, social groups, religious and charity organizations—these are all activities and relationships that find their expression in an online video chat or other digital form.

This is a massive cultural change that requires acclimation for the general populace. Depositing a check or booking that next holiday was often something done in person, and the shift to not only “remote work” but also “remote life” has left many susceptible to scams involving impersonation. This is particularly true now that a great deal of personal information is available, granting criminals credibility and enhancing the quality of their “creative artistry” as Chesterton describes it in the quote above.

We Must All Be Critics

But Chesterton is right to point out that if the criminal is the artist, there is a critic that has a role to play as well. If this recent wave of exploitation is to be mitigated, however, the critic cannot merely be the detective. The role of reviewer must also be taken on by each individual. After all, scams involving impersonation are a false narrative created for an audience of one. Know the signs of a criminal “performance” (which are useful not only for impersonation scam, but a wide range of malicious activity). It’s helpful to put this in the vein of reviewing a play or other work of art:

(1)  A Surprise Performance

No one goes to a play by accident. They buy tickets in advance and look forward to it for several weeks. They are not surprised when they find themselves in the theatre, and the same should apply for remote interactions. When contacted by a bank, travel agency, or government agency, think about the context. Have you had interactions with them before? Were you expecting them to contact you? If this monologue is unexpected, then be circumspect about the caller and their message.

(2)  Emotional Manipulation

One of the goals of criminals will be to generate an emotional reaction to lower your defenses. Great works of art draw out emotion also, but not in glaringly obvious ways—that’s what makes them great art. Rather, they use a subtle word here, a knowing look there. Be on guard for words that seem calculated to draw a strong emotional response from you, paying special attention to words and phrases that seem inelegant or forced. This includes negative feelings like alarm or fright from not having paid a fine or unknown tickets as well as more positive responses such as “winning” an Amazon gift card or a surprise holiday.

(3)  Immediate Action Demanded

Finally, great works of art move us, but that change is not often immediate. Many scams involve a demand for an immediate response; these scammers have invested time and effort into building a reasonable backstory all with the goal of you taking action while you’re on the phone with them. Given that the person who contacted you is not at your front door, but rather is talking to you remotely, there’s no immediate need to respond. If there are any warning signs concerning the interaction or you feel uncertain, end the conversation and contact the institution directly to ensure that the message is real. Let the story sit with you and examine it in your mind as you would a great play or novel before deciding to respond.

A Shifted World Requires A Shift in Thinking

Criminals are always seeking creative ways to exploit changes in society and those who might be vulnerable as a result. The first half of 2020 has certainly revealed a new theatre for them to perform the art of theft via impersonation. By developing a finely tuned critical eye and knowing the markers of poorly constructed art, we can begin to review these small scale dramatizations and “close the curtain” on this latest round of malicious activity.

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How virtual training is changing the game in remote learning

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By Aris Apostolopoulos, Senior Content Writer at TalentLMS and a faithful follower of the eLearning mentality.

Along with the latest leaps in technology, the current pandemic situation has made remote working not just a niche but a necessity. And with it, the need for remote learning has also skyrocketed.

Things are changing fast for most industries: a McKinsey Global Institute research found that, by 2030, some 375 million workers will be required to master new skills. But apart from the practical need for it, continuous learning is also one of the most efficient ways to keep remote workers engaged and productive.

The question then arises: what kind of remote learning should companies be investing in?

Ideally, it should be a type of training that combines the effectiveness of instructor-led training with the flexibility of online learning, to cater to the realities of today’s (and quite possibly tomorrow’s) remote working landscape.

Enter virtual training.

What is virtual training

Virtual training is a broad term that refers to any training that does not take place in a physical environment — rather in a virtual one. This type of training makes use of new technologies, predominantly web and cloud-based, to deliver asynchronous or synchronous learning.

In asynchronous virtual training, learners go through the course (usually modules utilizing a variety of media like videos, PDFs, quizzes, etc.) at their own pace. On the other hand, synchronous virtual learning is virtual instructor-led training (also known as VILT). During VILT, learners attend live classes conducted online via videoconferencing tools such as Zoom. Currently gaining momentum as a delivery method for training, VILT offers the immediacy of instructor-led training — while at the same time it keeps the costs significantly lower and simplifies the organizational side of things compared to traditional, on-site training.

The difference between remote and virtual training

You may have seen these terms used interchangeably to describe any training solutions that take place in online, virtual environs. While that’s not technically wrong, there is a key difference between remote and virtual training.

Remote training refers to a physical distance between a learner and an instructor. This usually requires a training software (like an LMS) that users can log into and attend courses online. Virtual training, originally, only referred to the nature of the delivery method (aka one that takes place in a virtual environment). As such, virtual training could also imply that a learner and an instructor are physically at the same location, utilizing technology to go through virtual scenarios (a popular practice in the sales and customer service industries).

In this post-COVID world we’re living, though, the terms “remote training” and “virtual training,” as well as the term “online training,” have become somewhat synonymous.

Benefits of virtual training 

Companies that are considering investing in virtual training have several things to consider. For starters, virtual training (that also implies a physical distance between learner and instructor) adheres to social distancing rules and is much safer for the health and wellbeing of all involved than real-life training.

But what are some of its other benefits?

Virtual, instructor-led training offers a seamless transition from the classroom (or any physical training space) to an online environment. Videoconferencing sessions are particularly comforting to employees who were used to face-to-face interaction. But they are also suitable for the younger generation of employees — whose inherent need for mobility and flexibility means that being able to attend a lecture on their mobile phones makes it less likely to disengage or drop off from training.

A Training Mag survey on graduates of both the virtual and classroom course found that virtual training is equally, if not more, engaging than its real-life equivalent: 86% of virtual training participants rated the experience “just as engaging” or “more engaging than” classroom training. And there is a well-established link between feelings of engagement and information retention: humans tend to learn faster if they find the subject interesting. This is further supported by findings in the same survey, that see participants averaging a score of 90% on a skill mastery test, which is 1% higher than average scores in traditional classroom sessions. So employees will be more engaged and will retain information better during virtual training — 80% of information, to be precise (according to research by Harvard Business Review).

What about other factors besides engagement and information retention? 

Cutting back on travel costs is also one of the reasons virtual training is gaining momentum. Booking experts to give lectures on-site involves covering travel costs (and quite possibly accommodation) plus all the administrative costs of organizing a real-life session: seating, stationery, food, and beverages, etc. Taking the learning process online allows companies to scale back on all these costs, and instead invest in the things that will really move the needle, like offering reskilling and upskilling training for their employees.

A TalentLMS survey conducted this year shows that 42% of companies stepped up their reskilling/upskilling training efforts after the coronavirus outbreak.

Virtual training best practices 

Like with any new tool or process, virtual training will yield optimal results when best practices are followed. Companies interested in virtual training should consider the following:

The need to cater to learners’ decreasing attention span

Learners can no longer be expected to sit through a 2-hour lecture that doesn’t change modalities frequently. One of the realities of remote working is that employees often multitask — and they may be tempted to do so during a videoconferencing, instructor-led course that drones on for too long. Switching gears frequently by keeping learning segments short and encouraging feedback and conversation in between is key.

The need to decrease screen time

Learner fatigue has become a serious problem, exacerbated by the fact that so much of employees’ time is currently spent in front of computer screens. Keeping virtual training sessions shorter, with breaks in between, combats that phenomenon.

The need for interactivity

We’ve already seen some of the benefits for VILT. However, relying solely on live, video-based learning robs learners from an interactive experience, assigning them to a passive role instead. And yet, interactivity is one of the critical factors that have made classroom learning so useful and practical to humans. Virtual training should therefore comprise different delivery methods, from quizzes and polls to interactive multimedia.

The need for frequent evaluation and data analysis

At the end of the day, a successful virtual training program is one that allows companies to have a clear look at insights regarding learners’ progress. A robust data analysis helps companies identify potential hurdles before they become severe issues and adjust the learning approach accordingly. That’s why investing in the right LMS is crucial to embarking on a successful virtual training journey.

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