On Watermarks and Preventing Unauthorized Image Use
This evening I stumbled upon an article on another expat's blog dated February 2013 running two of my photographs, without permission and without attribution. This article was listed first under the blog's Top Posts, making it the most-read article on the site. As you might expect, the unauthorized and unattributed use of my images put me right over the edge, and so I put several unkind words to the blog's owner.
The blogger has since replied. He's going to attribute the images, and I am allowing him to continue running the article with the images attached. He also says he's in the process of going through his past entries to update images with attribution where he is able. It sounds like he wants to do the right thing, I don't get the impression he's making a profit on the site (there are no ads), and so I'll make no further fuss about it.
But he should have known better ... Sadly, most bloggers do not.
I am myself partially to blame. The images in question are several years old at this point, and were originally posted to Flickr and to my (now defunct) Korean photoblog sans watermark. While not my best images, they have long been my highest rated images on Flickr -- on account of their content and the seedy nature of Internet users -- and it's not the first time I've seen these particular images bandied about without my permission. The blogger plucked them from a Google Image search, disconnected from attributable source.
At this point, I would like to mention that I am intentionally not identifying the blogger, nor the images in question.
In more recent years I have vouched strongly for watermarks being the best and only sure way of protecting your images from unauthorized use.
- Whereas metadata can be and often is stripped out of images, watermarks can only be removed by damaging the image.
- While code-based protection methods -- disabling the browser's right-click, or covering images with transparent pixels to prevent saving -- can very easily be circumvented, watermarks cannot be gotten around.
- Cropping or retouching an image to remove a watermark can be a real hassle, and that hassle is often discouragement enough to dissuade casual image theft.
- Watermarks can be used to promote your brand, driving traffic back to your site.
Regarding the last point, I choose to watermark my images with my website's domain, rather than with my name. I know for a fact I am not the only Matthew Campagna with a web presence, so using my domain name ensures that anyone trying to trace an image back to me will land on my website, not on his.
Blah blah blah ...
Several weeks back I had a notion to update my standard watermark, but I filed the idea away for another day. In light of today's events, I've gone ahead with the notion and have now added the words "Copyrighted image, unauthorized use forbidden" to my watermark. This is it:
This to drive home that my images are not Creative Commons, are not released for public use. Interested parties will have my domain right there, so can contact me if they'd like to license my images. In fact, I might go one step further:
"Copyrighted image, unauthorized use forbidden. Licensing available."
This is what the current version looks like on an image:
This might come off as being a little heavy handed, but I feel it's well within the bounds of good taste, and it adequately communicates that I wish my images not to be used without permission. I definitely feel better, and having now thought of it, I'm a little surprised I've not seen photographers doing this before.
I would be interested in hearing your thoughts about the new watermark, so do comment if you have something to share.
And for those interested in the subject of bloggers and unauthorized image use, Roni Loren's recent Blogger Beware: You CAN Get Sued For Using Photos You Don't Own on Your Blog is an interesting read about a blogger learning her lesson the hard way. I think it should be required reading for anyone starting a blog.
Update. I've revised the watermark, adding the words "licensing available" and increasing the size of the text slightly to accommodate Lightroom's scaling of the watermark when resizing images. Here it is:
Update, December 7, 2016.
For more information on trademark and copyright, check out How to Trademark and Copyright, at FirstSiteGuide.com.