PhotoSynth: Solving the orphan works issue for physical works of art

Visual artists say they have a problem, that no one can find their work, or at least match them as the owner of their work. We’ve said it time and again, the Copyright Registry fails visual artists, because images are not part of the online registry—so users can’t search by image, or even see a sample image of the work they’re looking for.

We’ve promoted the idea of visual registries, to help owners upload digital images to a site like Flickr so that services like TinEye.com can index them and return meaningful comparative search results for users. Among the push-back we’ve had from the visual artists community with this idea, besides the cost and time issues of digitizing and uploading, is from the physical visual artists — like sculptors. Even though I believe that simply taking a few photos of the work would suffice to help users find the original owner, it hasn’t satisfied some.

Enter Microsoft’s Photosynth, which just went public this morning. Unlike other 3D or virtual reality applications, which require the creator to stitch together the digital 3D wireframes and stretch real-world images around them, Photosynth does all the work. Give it a pile of photos with some visual connection, and it determines the image's focal length and perspective, matches the similar parts of each image, and it creates the digital 3D world context. Not only does the software allow you to create 3D digital landscapes, it allows you to navigate around objects with just a snaps around the image.

Read that again: not only does Photosynth do comparative image matching, the software also examines each to map the perspectives of the same matched image into a 3D world. Nay-sayers claiming that image recognition isn't there yet, prepare to eat your words!

This technology has been demoed a number of times by Microsoft, but until now it has only been available to a select few. Today, Microsoft has put the power in every consumers’ hands (that is, with a small download to a Windows machine, and Internet connection, and a stack of digital photos), to create context for every image. Snapping off a few photos is something that anyone can do, and would be easy for any sculptor who wanted to protect her art, if she hasn’t taken these images already.

The demos of this technology are amazing, here’s one that Microsoft did for TechCrunch:

The final shoe has dropped for independent visual artists, the tools are all here for you to use. The rest of the world has gone digital, some of them begrudgingly, but they’ve made the leap. Your audience on the Internet is far bigger than in the physical world. They’re waiting for you to make the digital plunge so they can discover and compensate you for your creativity. Come on in, the water's warm!

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