Thanks to Google, Shutterstock can stop automated watermark removal

The trick is in the geometry, not the position.

Stock photos have watermarks to make sure that you don't use them without paying for them. Removing them used to take some Photoshop know-how, but Google found a way to remove them automatically. The team also explained how to counteract the strategy with slightly varied watermarks. According to The Next Web, stock photo purveyor Shutterstock has now reverse engineered and implemented the process to prevent automated watermark removal.

The original removal process requires hundreds or thousands of photos with the same watermark. Google's software can then detect the repeated image structure and then remove it completely without degrading image quality. Shutterstock's software response adds minor inconsistencies to the watermark pattern itself, using machine learning to keep it random, thus confusing Google's software. The changes are to the structure, or geometry, of the watermarks, not the opacity or location.

"The result was a watermark randomizer that our engineering team developed so that no two watermarks are the same," Shutterstock's CTO Martin Brodbek told The Next Web. "The shapes vary per image and include contributor names. By creating a completely different watermark for each image, it makes it hard to truly identify the shape." The technique is already in use, too. You can see an example of one of the new watermarks on one of Shutterstock's image pages.