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Playboy to tag and track images

Playboy Enterprises is stockpiling new ammunition to catch pirates who illegally copy its images off the Net.

Playboy Enterprises is stockpiling new ammunition to catch pirates who illegally reuse its copyrighted images on the Net.

The adult magazine said today it will embed digital watermarks into all of its digital photos. Watermarks carry an image's copyright and contact information.

In the instance that the copyright warning is ignored and permission is not sought in the reuse of an image, Digimarc's MarcSpider technology, which crawls the Web to track the watermarks, may find that unauthorized use. This will allow Playboy and other companies to track and follow up on other uses and reproductions of their proprietary content.

With the looming launch of Playboy's subscription-based Cyber Club, the company is eliminating small-time competitors by stopping the unlawful use of its famous photo layouts. For $6.95 a month, $18 per quarter, or $60 a year, Cyber Club members will have access to more than 500 Playmate home pages and other collections from the magazine's database of 9 million images.

The watermarks will help the company find those who are illegally profiting from its photos, as well as the slew of (mostly young, male) Net users who have simply copied and posted a few Playboy images on their Web sites, according to Eileen Kent, vice president of new media for Playboy.

"There are an awful lot of college kids who put the images on their own sites. They are our fans and we don't want to alienate them, but this is against the law," Kent said. "When we find those types of uses, we'll just ask them to please stop."

But if people are making money off of Playboy's work, it goes to the company's legal department. "Frequently, we go ahead and file suit against people who are using our copyrighted material without authorization," she added.

For example, authorities in April raided a San Diego Web publisher, Five Senses Productions, and seized thousands of Playboy images.

Five Senses charged a $5 monthly fee to about 1,000 subscribers, who then get access to pornographic images. The operator's defense was that he took 4,000 to 5,000 images from the Net each day and that he had no way of knowing which belonged to Playboy.

Although the case is still in court, Playboy is trying to eliminate the excuse used by Five Senses in the future by implementing watermarks, which clearly notify anyone who accesses the image that it is copyrighted.

Playboy is also going to test the use of the watermarks on its print images. If an image is scanned off the magazine and then posted on the Net, MarcSpider can still find it, said Scott Carr, a spokesman for Digimarc.