EFF wants to keep DRM out of JPEGs – for all the right reasons

by Gannon Burgett

posted Wednesday, October 14, 2015 at 12:21 PM EST

Yesterday, the Joint Photographic Expert Group (JPEG), who’s responsible for keeping the JPEG image format relevant and up to date, had a meeting in Brussels, Belgium to discuss the future of the ubiquitous format.

During the meeting, the JPEG Privacy and Security group discussed the possibility of adding Digital Rights Management (DRM) to the JPEG format, an idea first explained back in September 2015. To counter the implementation of DRM into the JPEG format, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a donor-supported organization determined to ‘defend your rights in the digital world’, attended the meeting and gave a presentation explaining why it’s not in the best interest of either creators or end-users to include DRM in the JPEG format.

In the accompanying open letter, first quoted by BoingBoing, EFF Senior Global Policy Analyst Jeremy Malcolm said:

Our presentation explains why cryptographers don’t believe that DRM works, points out how DRM can infringe on the user’s legal rights over a copyright work (such as fair use and quotation), and warns how it places security researchers at legal risk as well as making standardization more difficult. It doesn’t even help to preserve the value of copyright works, since DRM-protected works and devices are less valued by users.

In the following paragraph Malcolm reassures creators that not all cryptography is defective, stating:

There are cases where it could be useful to have a system that allows the optional signing and encryption of JPEG metadata. For example, consider the use case of an image which contains personal information about the individual pictured—it might be useful to have that individual digitally sign the identifying metadata, and/or to encrypt it against access by unauthorized users.

The solution, Malcolm says, is to ensure platforms, particularly social media and photo-sharing platforms, ‘give users more control over how much of their metadata is revealed when they upload an image, rather than always stripping it all out.’

Malcolm calls out Facebook and Twitter in particular for the ongoing trend of removing metadata from all uploaded images, a double-edged sword that was implemented with good intentions, but ultimately yields negative results:

Currently some social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter, automatically strip off image metadata in an attempt to preserve user privacy. However in doing so they also strip off information about authorship and licensing. Indeed, this is one of the factors that has created pressure for a DRM system that could prevent image metadata from being removed.

As photographers, we want our images protected, there’s no doubt about that. But, as the music industry can very much attest to, the implementation of DRM might not be the best solution. To read the full letter, head on over to the EFF’s website.

(via BoingBoing)