To Watermark Or Not To Watermark

For a number of years, I’ve used a service by Digimarc (Guardian for Images) but I’ve ended the subscription as of a few days ago. 

Simply put, the program uses a form of steganography to embed your own identifying ID into an image you share publicly. Why? Well, the service is actually about searching for your images on the web. Typically, you’d do this to ensure no one steals your images and uses them as their own or uses them to make money (web design, for example) without paying you a royalty for them. 

So, for instance, I might post the above photo . . . er . . . I’ve posted the above photo. What if someone says “Hey! I like that. I’m going to copy it and print it and hang it on my wall!”

I can’t really keep anyone from doing that . . . except that at 72dpi resolution, and at 1280 pixels as a maximum, they can’t easily get a decent size photo-realistic print unless they take the time to upscale the image and have a fair amount of sophistication in digital images manipulations. But, say that they do . . . “They do!” . . . and now say they print it . . . “They print it!” 

Again, there’s not much I can do about it. They can even frame it and sell it and unless I happen to physically walk by a shop and see my photo, I’ll never know about it. Even if I see it, I can’t know for sure it’s my photo. 

“It has your watermark!”

Why, yes, Bob, it do . . . but . . . 

. . . that can easily be removed. Basically, if someone wants to steal that image and use it in the real world as a physical print, there’s not much I can do about it. 

It’s a different matter if they use the photo in a digital space. There are tools such as TinEye and PicScout and Google that can search for your photo online.

Go ahead; try it right now. Click on one of those links and upload a photo you’ve used on your blog. Those services should find your site and anywhere else that photo is being used. 

Or not . . . I’ve had poor luck finding my images. I mean, I sometimes do, but not in every instance. My guess is that on average I have a 50% chance of finding my images. I’m talking about finding images I’ve published on my blog. That is, if I upload a photo that I have published on the blog, there’s a 50-50 chance the search engine will find it on my site . . . and — in theory — anywhere else where it may be displayed. 

Digimarc is better. They always find my photos on my site and on Twitter and occasionally on Facebook (although Facebook seems to mess with the coding).

But, it’s still not perfect. Sometimes, the service doesn’t find images I know are on my blog. 

So, let’s get back to why I paid for the service ($99/year). 

Well, it bothers me when people steal and more so when they steal from me. Years ago, I found a few of my photos being used elsewhere without my permission and without acknowledgment that they were my photos. 

I figured digitally “marking” the photos would give me some leverage in 1) finding them and, if found, 2) exercising my rights as the legitimate owner of the copyright material.

What do you do if you find someone has stolen your photos? 

The first recourse is to notify the site in question that they are using your photo without permission. If it’s a reputable site, they’ll take it down. If it’s a reputable site and they really want it, they’ll offer some kind of compensation.

What if they ignore you? Well, then you have only one other recourse . . . you sue them. Of course, you’d have to hire a lawyer. Expensive. They could fight it (unusual) but they could also still decide to remove the photo and you’re out the fee for the layer. You can still sue for damages but you’d have to prove it’s your photo and that they maliciously stole it. 

What if they got it from someone else? Well, they’re still liable, but after taking them to court, they’re likely only responsible for any damages based on the value of the photo and lost revenue. Meaning, I wouldn’t get anything because I can’t show that photo as being worth anything to anyone. 

Really, I kept Digimarc more out of habit than any usefulness. In other words, I wasted the money.

That’s not to say that a famous photographer might not find them useful . . . but that’s because they are a famous photographer and their work may be worth serious money. They also likely have their work properly copyrighted.

I mean, everything you publish is automatically copyrighted . . . but if you plan to enforce it, it’s best to actually file the copyright with the U. S. Copyright office. For me, that’s impractical just based on the number of photos I publish. So, really, tracking their usage amounts to no more than planning in asking people who use them without authorization to take them down. 

Here’s the other thing . . . I’d have to search for every photo that I publish. 

It used to be the Internet was small . . . no more. It used to be not many people did serious photography . . . now there are roughly a crapload of photos uploaded every minute. 

How many? 

Back in 2014, there were 1.8 billion photos uploaded to social media every day. That was four years ago. HERE are some more recent statistics.

So, really, what are the chances of someone stealing my photos? Probably much less than the chances of me winning the lotto. 

What are the chances of me finding out if anyone is using my photos? Even less since I don’t actively search for them. 

The photos I’m sharing now also appeared on e-Bay and at a higher resolution than they do here (e-Bay suggests a minimum size of 1600 pixels). 

Some even appeared on Craiglist. 

Once I hit “publish” for this post, anyone in the world could copy and use these photos and the chances are I’d never know unless they ask for permission to use them. Of course, if they ask, I’d say “yes, but please acknowledge where you got them”. The Creative Commons licenses are essentially that . . . you grant others the right to use your work but with attribution. You can also forbid for-profit use but — again — how would you enforce it?

Let me cover the watermark I — and many people — add to images. The thing is, we’re amateurs and we watermark our images. Many pros don’t. 

The argument is that the work is already copyrighted and that watermarking detracts from the photo. It is, after all, an extraneous and sometimes intrusive bit of noise that seldom complements the photo. If that was noise on the original photo, you would edit it out.  

In fact, we hobbyists spend a fair amount of time processing and cleaning our photos . . . only to add an extraneous bit back in before publishing it. 

I suppose if you have a business it might make a bit more sense . . . but, even then, anyone looking at your stuff would know who you are and how to contact you. 

Note: I read somewhere that if you want to put a watermark with your name or business name on a photo, have it be small and have it vertical. Meaning, someone would have to turn their head to read it. I’m told that’s less intrusive and it won’t draw the eye like a regular watermark would. 

Let’s say you still want to have your watermark on the photo . . . how much of a problem is it for someone to remove it?

Well, let me show you. Before I do, let me remind you I’m not an expert and what you’re about to see took no more than a few minutes for each example, if that. 

First up . . . 

Original with the signature.

After literally no more than 20 seconds in Photoshop using the Content Fill option . . . 

Logo removed.

“Ah,” you say, “what if it’s something more complicated?”

You mean like, maybe, this?

lower left corner watermark

You can click on the photo to see a larger version. 

So, if you don’t care about the whole photo, you can just crop it . . . 

Cropped

What if I want the full original? Well, I could try the Content Fill . . . 

Content Fill – not very good.

OK, that didn’t work as well as I might have hoped . . . but I can use the Clone Tool . . . 

Clone Tool logo removal (replace)

Well, crap . . . what if we put the watermark smack in the middle?

Watermark in the middle of photo

I mean, that’s really detracting from the image but at least no one will be able to use it, right?

Content Fill plus Healing Brush.

I don’t like that I lost some of the Horizontal rocks . . . let me try it with the Cloning tool and some Spot Healing . . . 

Cloning Tool and Spot Healing

I think that without having access to the original, you’d be hard-pressed finding fault with that photo, especially at that resolution. And, remember, I didn’t take particularly great care in removing it. 

Greater resolution would likely make it even easier to remove the watermark. And, yes, there are digital forensic tools that can let you know if a photo has been altered . . . are you going to get the training and learn how to use them?

Sure, you could use a more intrusive watermark . . . 

Take that, you photo thief!

I think we can agree that defeats the purpose of showing your photos. 

I’ll probably still put my name on the photos but I’m rethinking how exactly I want to do it. I’m also thinking to not have the logo on the SmugMug photos in case anyone does want to buy them (unlikely given that everyone and their uncle and their great-uncle has a camera).

Here’s the gallery of the above photos. 

That’s it. This post has ended . . . except for the stuff below.

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Note: if you are not reading this blog post at DisperserTracks.com, know that it has been copied without permission, and likely is being used by someone with nefarious intention, like attracting you to a malware-infested website.  Could be they also torture small mammals.

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About disperser

Odd guy with odd views living an odd life during odd times.
This entry was posted in Photo Post-processing, Photography Stuff and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to To Watermark Or Not To Watermark

  1. I am not a serious photographer and I am generally flattered if people use my pictures but now and again I would appreciate an acknowledgement.

    This picture of mine taken in Wroclaw, Poland has been used many times in other web sites but none have given me a credit…

    Like

    • disperser says:

      When you find it, you can notify them that it’s yours . . . but, as I wrote above, the recourse you have is not practical unless you’re really serious about it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It is not even a great picture but I did spend some time cleaning it up and getting rid of all the background litter.

        Like

      • disperser says:

        That’s the thing . . . I spend a fair amount of time tweaking my photos.

        Time is valuable and so are the tools I use and while I know I can’t sell any of the photos, it still grates me if someone else takes them and uses them without asking; they’re basically stealing stuff.

        Like

  2. oneowner says:

    I never used any watermark or registration but I did have an interesting experience about a posted photo. I posted a photo of a Rochester, NY building years ago. About a year after I posted it I received an email from a publisher that wanted to use it for a coffee table art book on Wendell Castle:
    https://amazon.com/Wendell-Castle-Wandering-Forms-1959-1979/dp/0982681348/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1532541385&sr=8-1&keywords=gordon+-+wendell+castle

    I was thrilled that anyone would want to publish any of my photos and even more so since I was a fan of Wendell Castle. He asked me how much I wanted for the use of the photo and I said he could have it for free if he’d send me a copy of the book. About a year later, I had just about forgotten about the incident but then the book showed up in my mailbox. It’s a huge (10×12) book and my photo occupies an entire page and I was named in the credits. Once in a while, I wonder if there are any other photos that got published that I don’t know about.

    Liked by 1 person

    • disperser says:

      Most reputable places do ask for permission because they themselves are sensitive to copyright issues.

      I’ve had three organizations ask me to use some of my material (photos and videos) from the Waldo Canyon fire:
      https://dispersertracks.com/2012/07/07/waldo-canyon-fire-colorado-a-recap/

      I said yes to two of them. The third had wording in the license agreement that I didn’t like. Realistically, they could have gone ahead and used it and I’d never know. I should have approved that as well because I’m not doing anything with the photos anyway.

      The latest, oddly enough, was a request from a company that does BBC documentaries.

      Like

  3. macquie says:

    The topic is timely for me because I am thinking of making a logo for my watermark. I had not thought of it initially for my images, but one day someone connecting me on Facebook used my photo for someone else saying ‘I asked my friend to borrow…’ but I had / have never been, and certainly I was not happy about. ;-) Thank you Emilio, this post inspires me some idea. :-)

    Like

    • disperser says:

      You are welcome.

      Realistically, other than letting people know or having a notice on your blog and/or Facebook, it’s difficult keeping people from taking your stuff without permission.

      The best you can hope for is to keep it to a minimum and to let others know they should ask for permission first . . . ask you directly. Good luck.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Informative and good info, Emilio!

    The photos I take and put on my site are not steal-worthy as I am not a photographer in any sense of the word. Ha.

    I would never take, or share, a photo or cartoon on my site that is copyrighted or watermarked.

    But I wonder about the others that are not copyrighted or watermarked or anything. I find them on Yahoo’s Image site. I still wonder tho’ if the photographers know their images are there on Yahoo for people to use. ???

    I’ve never used a photo on WP from someone’s photography site or their blog site without their permission. The few I’ve used have been with the permission of my friends who took the photos. (WP is the only online site I am on. I don’t FB or Twitter or anything else.) Oh! And I have $ bought $ photos from people on WP who are photographers. And I have framed them and put them up in my home.

    I heard a story, years ago, about a family who had their photo taken off of Facebook and put on a billboard by a company advertising something. ( I don’t remember what). They were shocked and had to take steps to have their family photo removed from the billboard.

    Through the years I have wondered about people stealing my poems or stories. But, I stopped worrying about that. If a kid wants to turn one of my poems in at school and get a C or D on it, I say “Go for it, Kid!’ Ha!

    Any of my poems or stories that I would even try to get published have never been shared on my WP blog. I keep them under wraps! I only put up the not-so-good stuff.

    Sorry for the l-o-n-g comments!
    HUGS!!!

    Like

    • disperser says:

      Realistically, unless you created it, it’s copyrighted by someone.

      Everything on this blog is automatically copyrighted by the fact that I published it, but even if I don’t publish something, it’s copyrighted the moment I create it.

      There is some leeway in using other people’s work but technically — unless you’ve obtained permission — any graphic you post is a violation of a copyright unless the copyright holder has specifically put it in the public domain or released it under a Creative Commons License.

      It’s one of the reasons I use mostly Joe Martin’s cartoons; I reached out to him and asked if he minded me posting his cartoons on my blog. I reached out to other cartoonists but haven’t heard back.

      Now, I could feign ignorance and link to someone else who’s posted something on their blog or site. Technically, I’m not posting it; I’m just sharing what someone else has posted . . . in reality, I’m as guilty as they are.

      You might have noticed that when I post movies with some music, it’s music that’s been put into the public domain or released under Creative Commons with Attribution. I would love to use some of the music I like in my video clips, but YouTube would take them down and if I did it enough times, they’d suspend the account.

      As for writing, I started putting a lot of my fiction behind a password not so much to keep it from being stolen, but in case I want to sell it; publishing it on an open blog is considered the same as publishing it in book form. A magazine or book publisher won’t pay you as much for it.

      . . . and, you call that a long comment? Pfft!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. That’s the price you pay for fame Emilio!

    Like

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