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).
After 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!