All JPEG images may soon be subject to copy protection, blanketing all images used on the Internet with the same digital rights management (DRM) used for the specialist JPEG 2000 format.
The Joint Photographic Experts Group (JPEG), responsible for creating still image coding and implementing international standardisation, has launched a Privacy and Security initiative to protect images by embedding all JPEG format images with encrypted metadata.
Although this proposal could make strides toward empowering the owners of photographs, especially those unfamiliar with or unable to act on their rights, there is a possibility that it could conflict with fair use rights. The possibility exists that images with encrypted DRM would be impossible to copy or open, making it unusable for exceptions to copyright laws.
In South Africa, exceptions to the Copyright Act (no. 98 of 1978) are accepted as fair use/dealing when the purposes are for research or private use, criticism or review, or when reporting on current events. In all of these cases the source and name of author must be mentioned when the work is copied.
A middle ground has, however, been argued by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. At a meeting in Brussels the foundation pointed out that DRM would be harmful to the image owner, while also placing security researchers at risk. They added that the move would make international standardisation difficult, especially as “DRM-protected works and devices are (already) less valued by users”.
The middle-ground argument was to not change the JPEG image for, but instead to give users “users more control over how much of their metadata is revealed when they upload an image, rather than always stripping it all out”.