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Photo ‘fingerprint’ aims to foil copyright violators

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NEW YORK (AP) — The photo agency owned by Bill Gates is getting more aggressive in using technology to go after copyright violators.

Corbis Corp., which owns more than 3 million photographs, hides a digital watermark in images it disseminates online so the company can detect if someone is using a Corbis picture without paying licensing fees. But the watermark can become difficult to detect if a photo is printed, then scanned back into digital form.

So Corbis recently began comparing the pixel patterns of images found online with those of its original photos. Using the new method — think of it as looking at a photo's "fingerprint" — Corbis has discovered "over 20 high-volume pirates engaging in massive infringement," said David Green, senior corporate counsel.

The pixel-matching software comes from Vima Technologies Inc. of Santa Barbara, Calif. Vima is one of a handful of companies with image-searching software, which will become increasingly important as multimedia content multiplies on the Internet.