Why I Watermark My Photos

model: Coco the Pug

I recently read an excellent post by one of our fellow WordPress bloggers, Karla from Traveller Soul. In her post titled, “To Watermark or not to Watermark: How Do You Protect Your Photos?” she raises this very simple question with thought provoking and not so clear-cut answers. She recounts the tale of how one of her Instagram pictures was “stolen” and posted by another user as their own. It reminded me of my own exact negative experience with another Instagram user who not only took one of my photos and posted it as his own but when confronted (by posting a comment and calling him out on it) he flatly ignored me, blocked me and went one step further to change his account name!

This happens ALL THE TIME  on Instagram and Facebook. People are taking photos everyday from those sites as well as blogs and using pics without crediting the original photographer. Hey, it’s the internet – it’s a free-for-all!

It was after my Instagram experience that I decided to put watermarks on my photos. I don’t care what some high profile photographer says about it not making a difference – it matters to ME. No, it won’t stop someone from taking my photos and using them as their own. Nothing can prevent that. Not even the EXIF data that exists within a photo with your copyright information can stop theft (there are programs that can easily strip this data from your photos). A photo can be cropped or cloned to remove a watermark and photoshop’s new content-aware fill feature can easily remove the big offensive watermarks.

I also hope in some small way that the very conscious act of removing the watermark somehow shames the individual in the process.

Like I  commented on Karla’s post, just because you put an anti-theft device on your car doesn’t make your car theft-proof but it does take an effort (depending on skill level) on the thief’s part to steal it. Same thing with a photo. Removing the watermark can be either easy or hard depending on the perp. I also hope in some small way that the very conscious act of removing the watermark somehow shames the individual in the process. Not likely but one can only hope, right?

What’s the point then? I’m putting my stamp of ownership on that photo, my brand, my name. Like a painter signs his name on a piece of art (not claiming I’m an artist here or that my photos are pieces of art!) photographers should do the same with their precious photos. It simply says, “this is my work and I’m proud of it.” But there’s another valid reason to watermark your photos. If a lawyer is reading this post, I would love to hear his/her opinion on whether or not I’m right about this.

According to US copyright laws and related laws contained in Title 17 of the United States Code, under section 1202 of the US Copyright Act, it is illegal – that’s right, illegal – to remove or alter “copyright management information” such as “the name of, and other identifying information about, the author of a work, the copyright owner of the work.” This means watermark information, folks.

If you read further, listed under section 1203, civil remedies, “a complaining party may elect to recover an award of statutory damages for each violation of section 1202 in the sum of not less than $2,500 or more than $25,000.” Ka-ching!

Now, this only applies with infringements committed within the US, not internationally. I don’t have any further info but at least there’s some measure of security there, however small it may be. I’m no lawyer so I can’t dispense any legal advice here. Heck, I’m not even 100% sure that what I quoted is even accurate! Talk to a lawyer and get all the facts if you want to pursue damages.

If you DO want to use someone else’s photos, do it the right way. It’s not hard: just ask. There are plenty of standup and honest individuals out there and for every negative story there are a ton of good ones. Take for instance, Stephen Heiner who reached out to me via Twitter, asking for permission to use one of my photos in an old post he had seen here for his excellent blog, The American in Paris (it’s really good).

Twitter___MentionsAfter exchanging emails and sending him the original full resolution picture, he was able to use it and credit me for it. Here’s a link to his post, Homelessness in Paris.

All I’m saying is that at the end of the day, I just feel good stamping my watermark on my digital images. Go ahead and steal my pics and don’t give me credit for it. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery they say. But if you live in the US and I just happen to catch you, then it’s going dowwwn!

5 thoughts on “Why I Watermark My Photos

  1. Well said, in this sharing culture we have, watermarks are a must. Especially so with Pinterest. I think Facebook may actually strip a lot of metadata, I’ve noticed that when I’ve shared my own pics directly to FB. What do you think to QR codes? 🙂

    1. Thanks Amanda. As far as FB, I never trust anything they do with our photos. They have stated in their terms that all photos can be used for advertising and other uses once posted. They can go ahead and do so but they can’t remove the watermark. As for stripping metadata, I haven’t noticed that! I will have to take a look.

      What do you mean as far as QR codes? You mean using them on a photo in place of a watermark? That’s an intriguing idea!

      1. Well I thinking both. From what I understand QR data is embedded into the photo & can’t be stripped. I created one as a test, not used it yet though. It contains my entire copyright statement. The visual bar code can just be placed somewhere unobtrusive.

        The QR code is for computer reading, but a regular watermark is for humans,. So although a regular watermark can be removed, it is at least a visual deterrent. I think it serves another purpose too, by directing someone to the creator. This only works if the web address is added as watermark & not just the name. E.g. John smith photography could be any number of websites for a google search.

  2. wow – this was such a great post!!!! and I sometimes find it distracting when some photographers put their name on the photo – but I have found that it can eve done “better” and with fonts that are more subtle and with locations that are win-win – where they allow you to view the photo – enjoy it – and still give credit to the photographer at the same time.
    Also, don;t forget that there is a bit of “branding” going on each time you get your name on your work – and while this may not matter to some people – like me – it does matter to certain photographers that are trying to sell or promote and build a business. I just think the name – or watermark – has to be done in the right way or it gets annoying. but that’s just me….

    so thanks for this post – I am going to check out that paris blog next – 🙂

    1. Thanks Yvette! So sorry for the late reply. As far as the obstruction and “taking away” from the photo, it doesn’t really affect me. I’m kinda used to watermarks by now (as long as they’re not garish and large). It’s a necessary evil I guess but well worth it.

      As always, thanks for dropping by and giving your very valued input and opinion, Yvette. And yes, check out the various sites I put a link to!

Would LOVE to read your comments but please forgive me if I'm unable to respond at times...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s