When I began my work as a professional photographer way back in 2003, watermarking images was certainly the way to go online. Many things have changed since then and with these changes, my philosophy of watermarking and image use.
Today, I no longer watermark images and, while your view may differ, here’s my philosophy on the subject and also, how this doesn’t stop me from licensing my work.
Firstly, simply because I no longer use watermarks, that doesn’t mean that my images are free for everyone to take. However it does mean that I have moved on from the siege mentality that many photographers, even to this day, still have towards watermarking images and the general attitude to image use online.
I went through a period of tracking down infringements and chasing people around the internet. It wasn’t a healthy way to be spending my time, I had abuse hurled at me online and privately and I realised that there were other ways to deal with this that left me in a far more positive space.
So why don’t I watermark my images any more?
1.Watermarks look ugly. Simple as that. Whenever I look at the work of any great photographer I admire and it’s watermarked, all I see is the watermark first, then the actual image second.
2. Real companies don’t steal images to use commercially. Well, maybe some do, however the majority don’t. I’m often contacted by organisations wishing to use my work and enquiring on the fee. By ‘Real Companies’ I mean the kind of company that you and I would like to deal with. The straight forward people who understand doing business in a normal way. There are others, of course. However, they were probably never going to pay anyway. And as for those who do steal and don’t wish to pay, well scroll down to No4 for the answer
3. Watermarks are easy to remove. You can crop the watermark out in seconds on almost any device, you don’t even need Photoshop. There are even apps for removing them without trace. The only way to avoid that is to splat a great big copyright notice across the centre in Times New Roman, ideally Bold typeface. Yeah, that stopped ‘em.
4. Images can be tracked using technology. There are some very useful tools available today, beginning with Google Reverse Image Search which can help me track down those who think it’s perfectly fine to steal work and use it commercially and this image recognition technology is advancing rapidly all the time. It’s easy to find the bottom feeders.
With the above points in mind and bearing in mind my opening comments about the soul destroying task of chasing image infringement, I now register my work with the USA copyright office.
There are many photographers and writers outside of the USA who are indignant about the fact that copyright is automatically the right of the creator, so why should we have to register?
Well, you are of course, correct. However, registration with the Copyright Office brings benefits when chasing infringements. If your work isn’t registered, the best you can hope for is a ’Take Down’ notice and perhaps some notional fee on what the client may wish to think they should pay if it’s online. Other uses in print and advertising can be similarly hard to realistically enforce if you don’t register with the Copyright office.
In an international world, there’s little you can do to actually enforce any judgement. However, registration gives you teeth. If someone uses one of your images without permission, it becomes an easy lawsuit in many many countries. I’ve had many wins in this scenario, most times the issue doesn’t even get to court once the implications become apparent.
I won’t mention any names to spare embarrassment.
And should you wish to never ever deal with any of it, there are several very good legal companies that will take your case on a no win – no fee basis, as long as they have the copyright registration as a weapon. For me, that’s a win / win scenario.
5. I want my images to be seen by as many people as possible. Not watermarking images and deploying a little internet love is actually quite good fun, once you get your head around it. And the more people that link back to me, then the more that Google loves me. And you want Google to love you, right?
6. I am adopting the Creative Commons, non-commercial image licence. This means that as long as they give credit and link back to me here, people can use my images on their blogs, iPhone screens, laptop screen savers, anything really that is a NON commercial use. It makes it really easy for people to know what they can and cannot do. You can read the terms right here. Simples.
As for the people who always steal everything off the internet? I view them as the online version of shop lifters and the cost of doing business. Any storekeeper is going to lose a few chocolate bars into naughty kids pockets. As long as they don’t come back and 3:00am and ram-raid the store, then that’s part of life.
Personally, I feel a lot freer with this philosophy. I knew that the whole issue needed clarifying in my head and I thank Trey Ratcliff’s blog for triggering the train of thought that enabled me to form this far clearer, easier to enforce, strategy. The whole watermarking issue is still a subject of intense debate in some circles. Those are my views above, I am sure you will have your own opinion. Feel free to comment below.