Watermark my images?
Yes? No? …Maybe?

Soon after you realize that your photos are really more than merely snapshots, or your illustrations are more than just doodles, it’s likely you’ll want to display your work somewhere for people to see.

Your audience may only consist of family and friends, or you may want to showcase your work more widely, perhaps to the whole world.

If you aim for a wider audience, the question of protecting your creative work from unscrupulous crooks who are keen to steal your images will crop up sooner or later.

Should you care?
…and if you do, what should you do about it?

The first question above is an important one to think about.

There are a lot of people who really don’t care; they feel honoured and pleased that other people see their work as good enough to use. They may even encourage other people to take whatever they want, to use in any way they wish.

Others are driven to go to any lengths to ensure that everything is protected. There are certainly a host of measures that you could take to protect your intellectual property.

Most people fall somewhere between these two extremes.

If you choose to protect your copyright and control how your images are used there are a number of things you can do to achieve this goal. You are probably already doing some of them.

Here are some common ideas to think about:

  1. Include copyright details in the image meta-data.
  2. Make sure that any website you display your images on includes a statement indicating that the images are copyright and you reserved all rights.
  3. Never publish online images at print resolution. Generally, 72dpi at about 60% quality is perfectly good enough for online viewing provided the images are not stretched, thereby effectively reducing resolution.
  4. Embed a watermark on your image with copyright or other information to indicate that it is your – subtly. You don’t want to wreck the impact of the your work.
  5. On your own website, disable right-clicking to prevent people from easily downloading your images. This is not recommended because it inhibits the way some honest visitors’ legitimately browse.
  6. Routinely check for unauthorized use of your images online using a service like TinEye – it’s free – which has a remarkable ability to find copies of images even if they have been altered a bit. If you find any infringements, follow up and have them removed (or get paid for their use).
TinEye's Image Search Results
An Example of TinEye’s Search Result

A very important thing to reflect on, is whether it is wise to post your images on public websites, like Facebook and Twitter. Remember that there is little in this world that is truly free – “free” websites must be making money somehow to maintain their business – and almost all businesses exist to make a profit, not just cover their costs. Are they profiting by exploiting your art?

I’m not a lawyer, but Craig Delsack of New York is. He says:

“You may be shocked to find out that once you post on these sites, that although you still “own” the photograph, you grant the social media sites a license to use your photograph anyway they see fit for free AND you grant them the right to let others use you picture as well!

This means that not only can Twitter, Twitpic and Facebook make money from the photograph or video (otherwise, a copyright violation), but these sites are making commercial gain by licensing these images, which contains the likeness of the person in the photo or video (otherwise, a violation of their “rights of publicity”).”

~ http://www.nyccounsel.com

As an artist, to get your work out there it’s wise to tread carefully; there’s a fine line between safeguarding your integrity and rights; and making it too difficult for people to appreciate your work. These days, few people are prepared to jump through hoops to see our work unless we are already famous.

Looking at the list of measures you can take to protect your creations, the first three should probably be taken to heart as a matter of course. Adding watermarks – as long they don’t overpower the image – can also be quite effective. Should you decide that watermarks are the way to go, here are a few things to keep in mind:

Large enough to be seen, but not really noticed.

Watermark example
An unobtrusive watermark

Splashing a huge, bold copyright notice diagonally across the image will just turn people off. An unobtrusive, semi transparent logo, website, or company name tastefully embedded into the image – perhaps across the top or bottom – won’t detract from the viewer’s appreciation.

Most people who are inclined to use your images without permission will use the image as it is, without cropping your watermark off or trying to hide it somehow. At the least, this will give you some free exposure! Even if they do the extra work to hide their theft, it is likely that periodic TinEye scans will still detect it.

You can create watermarks fairly easily with most (all?) image editing applications. A large, semi transparent PNG file with a fully transparent background is an ideal way to go. You would then shrink the watermark image to match size of the image being watermarked. For Photoshop users, Sean Bradshaw has a really good video illustrating how to create a Photoshop action to add watermarks on demand: ( link ). If you use a different image editor, you could probably adapt his method in your chosen editor quite easily.

Or, of course, you could just use the Revolution Mind Image Portfolio WordPress theme and have the images automatically added to all images for you – which intelligently selects the best watermark to apply based on each image’s luminosity. The theme is close to being released – add your name to the pre-release list, just drop us an email.

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