How do you show that you had an object before a certain date?
June 14, 2007 9:03 PM   Subscribe

How do you show that you had an object before a certain date?

I need to be able to show I had possession of an object before a specific date via a photograph.

It is straightforward to show you had an object after a certain date by taking a photo with a newspaper.

But how do you do it in reverse?
posted by Argyle to Grab Bag (71 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Assuming photographic/video evidence is sufficient (ie, no suspicion of photo tampering/editing), I have two thoughts--a photograph of you with the object sent in a sealed envelope via registered mail with a date on our prior to the date in question, or a video with you, the object and some live event/calendar display over which you have no direct control which occurred before the date in question. One of those live updating date/time/temperature/stock quotes kind of rolling displays, perhaps, or at a particular ceremony or public event that can be pinned down to a specific date and time.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:11 PM on June 14, 2007

Store invoice?
posted by PowerCat at 9:12 PM on June 14, 2007

Third thought would be to have the photo taken in the presence of a notary, who could perhaps certify that the photo is genuine and was taken on a specific date, though then the evidence is more in the certification (ie, they could also have certified that you had the object without a photo) than the photo.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:12 PM on June 14, 2007

Find an old newspaper and take a photo with it and the object.
posted by mustcatchmooseandsquirrel at 9:15 PM on June 14, 2007 [2 favorites]

Take a photo of yourself with short hair and the object. Then grow your hair long.

Document a permanent (or of reliable longevity) change to yourself or the object. Hair, scars, tattoos, safe deposit records, mailing documentation, etc. where recreation of the event is impossible because it would overlap existing permanence.
posted by cowbellemoo at 9:23 PM on June 14, 2007

Take a photo next to something large and public. Now destroy said large public thing in such a way that everybody nearby knows when it happened.
posted by pompomtom at 9:24 PM on June 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

So basically you have a thing, and up until the point of this query there has been no need to document your possession of this so presumably you've taken no extraordinary measures to preserve a record of having the thing on a date in the past?

Am I getting the question right?

If a photo with a newspaper is good enough, then what mustcatchmooseandsquirrel said seems like the way to go.

Otherwise you had to get the thing somewhere, I imagine you could seek out the source of the thing and ask for the source to affirm the details of the transaction that left you with this thing.
posted by Matt Oneiros at 9:24 PM on June 14, 2007

I need to be able to show I had possession of an object before a specific date via a photograph.

This is patently impossible without cheating (e.g. finding an old newspaper).

Logically, a photograph can only show possession at the time the photo was taken -- because in theory, you could have first acquired the object mere seconds before the photograph was taken, and discarded it seconds later.

So, I'm interpreting your question to mean "I want to prove that I have had X in my possession for a long period of time." In which case, you need a pattern of photographs, each with its own reference dates (e.g. newspapers).

Besides specifically dated references, you can also date photos by oblique references (e.g. "you can tell this photo was taken before 9/11, because you can see the World Trade Center in the background").
posted by frogan at 9:30 PM on June 14, 2007

A notary public is the most straightforward way to do this, or any other third party statement of which you think the second party will believe.

Pompomtom has the right idea too. If your event is after a known time, you can show it by showing a photo with a object created at that known time. If your event is before a known time, you can show it by showing a photo with an object that is destroyed at that known time.
posted by demiurge at 9:30 PM on June 14, 2007

So it sounds like there is no easy way that people can recommend. Perhaps I should have been clearer.

An old newspaper really doesn't work, since I could get an 10 year old newspaper, take a photo today, and it would mean nothing.

Other suggestions like mailing it and notaries might work, but are far too complex.

I'm looking for a simple method for a photo in an office environment of me with an object for the "look how leet I am" factor. The trick is that it can only be shown after having the object is no longer leet. Think waiting out a NDA.
posted by Argyle at 9:31 PM on June 14, 2007

Find an old newspaper and take a photo with it and the object.

The problem with this is that you can get a hold of old newspapers (at, say, the library) and use that in the picture.
posted by mhum at 9:32 PM on June 14, 2007

Take a photo in front of a building scheduled for demolition the next day? Preferably with a newspaper article on the demolition in the photograph.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 9:33 PM on June 14, 2007

Does it have to be in the office? What you need is a picture of you with the object at some recognized source of accurate time and date which is in the control of another stable and relatively trustworthy organization. Something like a transit time table (the one that is updated with time/date information) would work.
posted by Loto at 9:38 PM on June 14, 2007

Also, I don't mean paper tables, I mean the billboard-style ones like you find in bus depots.
posted by Loto at 9:39 PM on June 14, 2007

Take the picture. Mail the picture to yourself certified. Open it on video and make sure the mailed-to date is very, very clear on the video.

More simple... get it printed as a postcard. Mail the postcard to yourself. Postmark provides the dating.
posted by toomuchpete at 9:42 PM on June 14, 2007

If a photo with a newspaper is good enough, then what mustcatchmooseandsquirrel said seems like the way to go.

Old newspapers still exist in the future. :P

There needs to be a state in the past that is unreachable and unstagable in the future.

A photograph of yourself/object and a phase of the moon would last 2 weeks. A photograph of a place/yourself/object in a certain season would last most of a year (weather depending). A passport could cooberate a pic of the place/self/object overseas if the trip were not repeated. Any non-recurring event, such as a band that tours irregularly, election rallies with year placcards everywhere, construction projects, pre-demolished buildings, large advertising efforts (posters on skyscrapers, billboards).

Well, that's a few.
posted by cowbellemoo at 9:43 PM on June 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

Take a picture of yourself holding the object; then, get a tattoo that would have been visible in the picture. Or, buzz your hair and keep it short till you show people the picture.
posted by nicwolff at 9:43 PM on June 14, 2007

Note that those only work with people who know you for the entire period, not with new acquaintences.
posted by nicwolff at 9:45 PM on June 14, 2007

Photos with children would last forever if the proof wasn't needed for a while.
posted by cowbellemoo at 9:48 PM on June 14, 2007

Or what about getting a picture in front of a television with a news broadcast/date? Like, say, Times Square, or something huge, where it's clear you couldn't possibly have gotten that changed.

Although, honestly, pictures can always be photoshopped, so your best bet is the certified mail thing.
posted by mckenney at 9:48 PM on June 14, 2007

Oh! Duh: post a picture of you holding the object to Google Groups where it will be archived forever, provably dated.
posted by nicwolff at 9:51 PM on June 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

The only way is to photograph it in the context of something that is unique, dated, and non-persistent (as a newspaper is) and non-reproducible (as anything media that can be recorded, from live TV to pretty much anything on the internet is). In the office environment? I don't think it can be done. Things that occur to me in a broader environment are: unique, identifiable physical events (parade, sporting event, concert) or, as Loto suggests, any kind of public display that is not easily faked (like, some public digital clocks display date and time).

Really, most anything I can come up with (like video of you calling up some number that states the current date) would invite accusations of faking it. It sounds like this is something like "check it out, I played with an iPhone before anyone else had one!" kind of situation? Honestly, is the proof that essential? Presuming the background for why you had the thing was plausible, is anyone really likely to call you out as a liar? And anyway, is anyone likely to be all that impressed when you can't disclose the fact until it's basically old news?
posted by nanojath at 9:52 PM on June 14, 2007

Photo with an unburied corpse. Photo with a tree branch grafting. Hehe this is fun!
posted by cowbellemoo at 9:55 PM on June 14, 2007

And if the NDA thing is not hypothetical, it is probably worthwhile to ponder "is there any chance this is going to get me fired?" As, I would think, the answer to the (otherwise interesting) Google Groups response might be "maybe," as in "he posted something he'd signed an NDA to not reveal anything about to an uncontrolled forum outside the company while the NDA was in effect? Maybe we should fire him." I mean, I dunno. But maybe.
posted by nanojath at 9:56 PM on June 14, 2007

OK, no, Google Groups doesn't archive binary groups. You could just post it to Usenet, but it would fall off after a while. Hmm...
posted by nicwolff at 9:56 PM on June 14, 2007

Why don't you go to an museum or art gallery with a special exhibit, and take a picture of you, the object, and a poster talking about the limited-time-only exhibit?

Advertising in general seems to be a productive route to take, because it's very visible and is often time-limited.
posted by goingonit at 9:56 PM on June 14, 2007

Take a photo with a pregnant woman in your office.
posted by bunglin jones at 10:00 PM on June 14, 2007 [2 favorites]

You could combine it with an aggressive weight loss program that you document online in forums you can't easily manipulate.
posted by nanojath at 10:06 PM on June 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

Email a photo of it to whoever...but encrypted.

When the NDA drops, send them the key.
posted by IvyMike at 10:14 PM on June 14, 2007

In an office environment... hm.

Okay, how about this. Take it with you standing next to a window, out of which you can see a billboard.

Still, with photoshop around, there's no completely tamperproof thing you can do.

(And unless the NDA is hypothetical, either make it a digital photo or don't have the film developed until afterwards.)

If you're taking the pic with a non-digital camera, here's a thought--take pictures of "dated" things, advertising, buildings about to be demolished, etc. (and take lots!), then the picture of you with the object, then more pictures of dated things. Then, on the negatives, you'll have the picture surrounded by and attached to things with verifiable times.
posted by Many bubbles at 10:31 PM on June 14, 2007

From the sound of it, this doesn't need to be legally watertight, just something that will convey your message of leetness. In which case, just use the date-stamp function of the camera to have the date printed in the bottom corner of the photo (example).

Then, afterwards, you could use photo-editing software to draw a red circle around the date-stamp, as a "check THAT out!" way of bringing the viewer's attention to the date.
posted by -harlequin- at 10:53 PM on June 14, 2007

Seconding the upload an encrypted version somewhere very public and archived, or multiple places. Afterwards release the encryption key. Alternatively, take MD5 and SHA1 hashes of the original file and post those somewhere / manywhere (like in signatures on forums, or comments on flickr, enough places that you know when the time comes to release your picture you can point them to a bazillion places that have timestamped versions of the hashes. Maybe a personal ad in an online paper, Craigslist, etc.

RAR your picture with encryption and add it to the end of another picture and post it anywhere that allows you to upload an image. Later you can point people to the image in various locations, give them the RAR password, and thereby allow them to Right-Click-Save-As and download the image and then recover the original image from the RAR data using the provided encryption key.
posted by zengargoyle at 10:54 PM on June 14, 2007

If you wanted to take the billboard route, I'd suggest the signage at a theatre advertising an upcoming premier of a blockbuster movie, on the grounds that it's easy for people to remember how long it ago it was that that movie was in theatres.
posted by -harlequin- at 10:57 PM on June 14, 2007

If you can't show the object yet, how about taking a photo with it near the edge, and cropping it out? Then you can post the cropped version somewhere it'll be timestamped, and prove later that the uncropped version matches up.
posted by lucidium at 11:03 PM on June 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm with cowbellemoo..

Kids are a great validation, or really any person recognizable in your circle. It is a hell of a lot harder to 'transparently' photoshop a person into a scene than to change something flat like a TV picture or billboard.

"Look! I had it when Jim was sporting that f'ed up mullet!"
posted by SpookyFish at 11:26 PM on June 14, 2007

Either take a photo of you with the iPhone and mail it to yourself and open it in the presence of the technowhores you're trying to impress.

Or get a photo of you taken in front of a nearby construction site or with a major building being constructed behind you.

But they'll think it's Photoshopped anyway.

If all you're trying to do if show off your l33tness, either you got it or you don't. It's like cool, you can't prove you have it, you either do or you don't.
posted by Ookseer at 11:43 PM on June 14, 2007

Publish an ad with a picture of you and the object in a major newspaper (or even better, get them to print a story about you and the object).

Ask the person who is questioning your possession of the object to visit one or more random libraries (so they can be reasonable sure you didn't tamper with all the copies) and look for a physical copy of that specific issue.
posted by rpn at 11:53 PM on June 14, 2007

Mail a copy of a photo to a webmail service whose servers you don't control (like Gmail or Yahoo). If anybody doubts your extreem 1337ness, sit them down in front of a web browser, log onto the account, retrieve it from the archive before their very eyes, and show them the date stamps in the headers.
posted by flabdablet at 12:44 AM on June 15, 2007

If it is a digital image you can see if you can hunt down the "date created" metadata by viewing the properties in Windows Explorer or equivalent*. This kind of metadata should be inviolable and hold up the credibility of your record.

*Hint: to get Microsoft products to automatically insert more metadata for your records select Tools>Autosummarise

Hope this goes some way to helping you.
posted by BAKERSFIELD! at 12:45 AM on June 15, 2007

Posting checksums of the photos to Google Groups seems the best way to me, for this purpose. Give both SHA1 and MD5, and something more recent and less crackable for good measure. You don't even need to say correctly why you’re posting them. Assuming the people you're talking to understand cryptographic checksums, this is exactly as verifiable as the notary public option.
posted by Aidan Kehoe at 12:52 AM on June 15, 2007

Oh and in case they try to say you created the file and altered it at a later date, ensure you do nothing to it so that the "Date last modified" is the same as the creation date and they can't argue with you.
posted by BAKERSFIELD! at 12:52 AM on June 15, 2007

It's an interesting question you pose. The answer is actually to submit the hash of your data to what's called a Timestamp server. Verisign actually maintains one; it's meant for signing software packages for operating systems. I could see it being a nice thing to have a web interface to this, though -- there's no easy way to do what you ask.

Well, except reply to this thread with a hash of whatever you've got. The hash will get attached to this thread, and archived with a timestamp.
posted by effugas at 1:31 AM on June 15, 2007

Take a photo of the object sitting on your shelf, covered in dust.
posted by textilephile at 2:30 AM on June 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

Some buildings have big LED signs that cycle through date / time / temperature. Lots of banks seem to have them. Maybe take a picture in front of one of those.
posted by churl at 2:45 AM on June 15, 2007

Many bubbles writes "If you're taking the pic with a non-digital camera, here's a thought--take pictures of 'dated' things, advertising, buildings about to be demolished, etc. (and take lots!), then the picture of you with the object, then more pictures of dated things. Then, on the negatives, you'll have the picture surrounded by and attached to things with verifiable times."

It is pretty easy to fake this with any slr that allows for manual control of the film advance. Alternatively you can string any series of images together on a single strip of film with internegatives (IE: photos of negatives)..
posted by Mitheral at 3:42 AM on June 15, 2007

Use film and get it developed at a photo processor that date stamps the prints. Or if the photo already exists check the back of the photo print for the date on which it was printed.
posted by Gungho at 4:16 AM on June 15, 2007

As several other people alluded, you want a cool way to prove that you have an Iphone 2 weeks early. Play it "pop" and video yourself in front on the cineplex marquee. Be sure to say "look people are paying full price to see Fantastic Four: Silver Surfer" on a Friday night.
posted by tfmm at 4:19 AM on June 15, 2007

I'll leave the details to others but add that if you take a photo and want it to be 'proof' of anything, why not take a Polaroid? Much less easy to fake (although still technically sort of possible) and also lends a lurid, voyeuristic quality that might suit your desires here.
posted by dirtdirt at 4:26 AM on June 15, 2007

Some insurance adjusters use a polaroid camera because they are (were?) accepted in civil court actions where regular photos were not.
posted by Raybun at 5:44 AM on June 15, 2007

Take a photo of you with either the sun or the moon visible in such a way that the angle can be easily determined. Perhaps you can be standing at a prominent landmark, a statue in a park, with the moon visible over a building behind you. You could be holding a chart that explains that the moon can only be located where it is on a certain date/time.
posted by bondcliff at 5:51 AM on June 15, 2007

If you can relax your "office environment" criterion, then this is easy:

Take a photo (or better yet, video) of yourself at a public, single-fate event: a sporting event, a band playing at a local club, etc. Get shots of yourself with many different things in the background, so that it can be compared to other photos of the same event. Get a shot of yourself in front of a marquee, if possible. Print up a sign that says something like "I'm here with Argyle and his/her iphone on xx-xx-xxxx and take photos with as many strangers holding the sign as possible.

Of course, as many people have pointed out, any photo can be photoshopped or manipulated in some way. But if whoever you are trying to prove this to will accept photos as evidence, then this should do.
posted by googly at 6:00 AM on June 15, 2007

I had to do this once, and used a pregnant woman who was not having any more children. With a newspaper. Sent registered mail and never opened. Including a signed affidavit that I took it. Stored in a safety deposit box. It held up in court, and I was never called as a witness. The judge just opened the envelope himself, and that covered it. (That was before digital though.)
posted by unrepentanthippie at 6:19 AM on June 15, 2007

1. Take picture of self with object
2. Place picture in Zip-Lock brand freezer bag
3. Place bag in glove box of Plymouth Belvedere
4. Bury Belvedere for 50 years
5. Profit on rusted 733tness
posted by medium format at 6:21 AM on June 15, 2007

Thank you all for your ideas.

While it would be nice to have an iPhone, I do not have one.

It seems fairly clear to me that there is no simple way to achieve this for the simple ego-driven purposes I had in mind.

I do appreciate your efforts and applaud the ingenuity. The concept of using a to-be demolished building is ingenious, if only there was a list of such buildings.
posted by Argyle at 7:26 AM on June 15, 2007

Wounding yourself visibly to some degree would seem to be the most practical approach to this, as healing goes through very noticeable stages that can be observed day to day on an immediate level. The length of the provable time would be how long it takes to heal to the point that makeup can't cover it.

Overlapping a cut, fingernail trimming, hair growth, and small children documentation would give you full coverage.
posted by cowbellemoo at 7:37 AM on June 15, 2007

Hehe, on second read, IvyMike's is most practical.
posted by cowbellemoo at 7:49 AM on June 15, 2007

It sounds to me like you have something you "shouldn't" like an iPhone. In that case I agree with the idea of taking a photo at a live event. I'd try to find something outdoors, preferably a once ever event. Any political speech may work, especially if it is someone who doesn't come through your area often. Protests may work as well, especially if they are in a well known spot. Good luck (and grats?)
posted by TheDukeofLancaster at 8:07 AM on June 15, 2007

If you decide to take a picture in front of a non-repetitive, non-reproducible, unique event, here are some more ideas:

In front of a store that is closing soon for good.
In front of a billboard for something timely.
In front of construction of some sort.

If you're going on vacation any time soon to somewhere far away, you could take a picture with it there.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 8:18 AM on June 15, 2007

How about a photo with a plant in the office? Different plants can be used depending on the time-frame needed (e.g. bamboo, or something more tree-like). If the person demanding the proof is going to be particularly skeptical you might have to mark it in a way that proves you didn't just substitute a smaller plant of the same type later.

The best method depends on when in the future you want to display the proof. As suggested the healing time of wounds, length of hair or growth of children can all be used as indicators depending if you want to show the photo in days, months or years.
posted by Gomez_in_the_South at 8:52 AM on June 15, 2007

Find a television news van during a live broadcast. Wait until they're "live" and then run in the background waving said item.


Go to an important Chicago Cubs. Sit in the outfield. When the opposing team hits something near the wall, grab it with one hand while waving the item with the other.
posted by drezdn at 9:42 AM on June 15, 2007

How about not do it?

What if you went to a grocery store and picked up a package of meat or something with an expiration date for your photo. Because that denotes a certain window of time, it would spoil after that.
posted by citron at 10:49 AM on June 15, 2007

Can I just ask why taking a photo in your office with today's NYT or USA Today or BBC homepage on a monitor in the background wouldn't work?
posted by DarlingBri at 11:37 AM on June 15, 2007

Having a photo/video with a newspaper is done to prove that something happened after a certain date. If I have a photo with the newspaper from last week, it is impossible that I took the photo before that date because that paper hadn't been printed yet. However it doesn't prove that the photo wasn't taken some time since last week. I could easily have taken the photo today holding last week's newspaper.

Argyle is trying to prove that something took place before a certain date, and not after it.
posted by Gomez_in_the_South at 12:05 PM on June 15, 2007

If it has to be in the office, probably the best thoughts would have to be with a plant, with someone who is pregnant, or with something on the computer screen that would be almost impossible to fake/reproduce. My choice would be the front page of CNN/USA Today or even the Drudge Report, showing something that happened today ("Computers on the space station are back up" as a headline on USA Today won't be back around, probably).

The best idea overall, I think, is taking a photo in front of the box office showing several movies showing at once. Having F4, Nancy Drew, Ocean's 13, and Knocked up in the theater at the same time only happened at a specific point in time. It's also good because a lot of people will be able to judge the time period right away without having to look too closely for a specific date.

If "not photoshoppable" is the defining criterion, you are pretty much out of luck anyway.
posted by gemmy at 4:25 PM on June 15, 2007

I'm going to third the hashing idea. It's a fantastic one. Take a picture of yourself with the object. Resize the image file if desired and do anything else you need to prepare it for distribution. Then obtain the SHA-1 or MD5 hash of the object with something like Karen's hasher. Then upload the hash to a public forum where you cannot edit your comments (like this thread). The hash can't be used to recreate the image, but if you later give someone the (unmodified) image you hashed, then the posted hash (which they can verify) is unassailable evidence that you had the image at the date you posted the hash.

It's perfect. I wish I had thought of it.
posted by musicinmybrain at 7:09 PM on June 15, 2007

There's something appealing about the idea of using an analog film camera to establish the date by taking photos of distinctive signs before and after the important photo(s) of you. Plenty of good ideas in this thread about what to shoot. Date displayed, public, unfakeable, etc. As Mitheral mentioned, you could fake the order of the shots with a manual camera, although it might be hard to accurately rewind. If you used a disposable camera though, I believe you would only be able to advance the film, not rewind it. Then after the NDA has expired you could take your disposable camera to the person you are trying to impress, get them to choose a photo shop, and get it developed. Not sure how long these NDAs last, but If you're talking a number of years you might get some fogging on the negatives.
posted by jarsyl at 10:39 PM on June 15, 2007

About three years ago, I did in fact save several hashes of documents I thought I might need to rely on later in my Yahoo mail account. Only after I'd done that did it occur to me that simply emailing copies to myself achieved exactly the same end, and was easier for non-crypto types to understand.

That Yahoo account has since died, so it's all kind of moot.
posted by flabdablet at 12:02 AM on June 16, 2007

Couldn't you take a photo of it, upload it to flickr as private, and then switch it to public after the fact? And then flickr will show the upload date, which I think (?) can't be faked without hacking into their system, and you'll have proof that you must have had the object on or before that date.
posted by Tuwa at 7:04 AM on June 16, 2007

Flickr also keeps track of when the photo was replaced, so there's that (to prove you haven't altered the photo afterwards). When a photo has been replaced, the data goes into the column on the right, below "Edit title, description, and tags", and says something like "Replaced on January 29, 2007".

The upload data shows at top right, e.g. "Uploaded on June 6, 2007
by Jesus H. Shatner"

Just a thought.
posted by Tuwa at 7:29 AM on June 16, 2007

digital photo, then digitally sign using a signing service like this
posted by fishfucker at 12:40 PM on June 16, 2007

or with something on the computer screen that would be almost impossible to fake/reproduce. My choice would be the front page of CNN/USA Today or even the Drudge Report, showing something that happened today ("Computers on the space station are back up" as a headline on USA Today won't be back around, probably).

Nah, that'd be astonishingly easy to reproduce, if you knew ahead of time that you'd want it. You'd just take a screenshot of it, then when the time came, open the shot in a graphics program and go to fullscreen.
posted by Many bubbles at 1:05 PM on June 17, 2007

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