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Change may come soon for the web's most widely adopted image format. Earlier this week at a meeting in Brussels, the JPEG Committee discussed adding a DRM (Digital Rights Management) security feature to the regular JPEG image format. DRM is a controversial rights management feature that has been used in an attempt to curb illegal downloads of movies and music. While JPEG 2000 format images have a DRM option, regular JPEG images currently do not.

The addition of DRM to JPEG would prevent protected images from being used by those without the correct software or license. Attempting to open a protected image in an editing application, for example, may return an error message in the same way trying to copy a CD is blocked at the software level. While JPEG DRM could give photographers a new way to protect their images, the security feature is not without its downsides.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) participated in the Brussels meeting, giving a presentation detailing the potential issues adding DRM to the JPEG format could cause. The EFF argues that adding DRM to images 'would not be effective at protecting intellectual property rights in images and would have unwanted side effects.' Among the concerns is that DRM doesn’t work well with copyright limitations, including fair use, can be used for 'anti-competitive conduct like region coding,' and infringement upon the freedom of expression.

The EFF instead recommends that security concerns focus on image metadata, pointing to instances where it would be beneficial to include encrypted metadata in a JPEG. The organization also suggests that services like Facebook should allow users to decide how much metadata is included when an image is uploaded; presently, such services remove all metadata.

Would you support adding DRM to JPEG files? Let us know in the comments.