Researchers at Google have created an algorithm that can erase watermarks from photos automatically, warning that pictures are vulnerable copyright violations even with superimposed logos used to protect them.
The method – which has been documented in more detail in a paper titled On the Effectiveness of Visible Watermarks [PDF] – essentially takes advantage of the fact that watermarks, by design, are applied to photos in the exact same manner.
While this makes it easier for stock photography markets to establish their brand, Googlers were able to leverage this consistency in order to develop a computer algorithm that is capable of autonomously editing out signature marks out of images.
The technique is explained more extensively in the video below:
People can manually remove watermarks today, using image editing tools like Photoshop, but Google’s approach is automatic. It could clean the watermarks off hundreds of images in the time it would take a human to clean one.
Here is how this looks in action:
“The vulnerability of current watermarking techniques lies in the consistency in watermarks across image collections,” they added. Introducing random geometric perturbations to the watermark – warping it when embedding it in each image — can counter this vulnerability, researchers said
The technique produces a watermarked image that is very similar to the original photo and will leave very visible traces if removed.