Copyright and the Internet: it’s an ongoing debate where those who OWN copyright are battling those who want to use the copyrighted material through legal license, or borrowing—often known as theft. There’s debate about “fair use” and ownership and—where I believe the real answer lies—the reality of how people work, behave and use something as big as the Internet to get what they want or need.
I’m not a lawyer, so it’s important you don’t take my post here with any legal precedence. Consult a lawyer in your country of origin, as it varies even between friendly neighbours like Canada and the United States. What I hope to discuss here are my reasons for doing what I do with my images on the internet, what your potential options may be, and how to “protect” your work if that’s your goal.
[Full disclosure: I have done commercial photography work for CanvasPop & DNA11 but am not a pay-rolled lackey]
Many programs make this an easy task—Adobe Photoshop Lightroom lets you have some control over the graphic (or text) you use and where you place it. The trade-off is that you can put the watermark in the dead center of your image (which ruins the image, in my opinion), or you can place it near a corner where it doesn’t fundamentally affect the composition, which makes it easier for someone to crop or clone out and then “steal” the image.
An advantage to having a watermark is that if you don’t want an image used without your permission, most reputable printers will not print a watermarked image—CanvasPop included. But I’ve always believed that if someone wants to steal something, they’re going to find a way.
My friend, Seshu is a wedding and portrait photographer based in New England. This is what he had to say about the watermarks he puts on his images: “1) It’s a branding exercise. So, people who see the image and then the logo will instantly recognize it as one of mine. 2) The information within the watermark gives people a way to contact me, if they want to work with me.”
His final point is what we’re talking about in this series: “3) Watermarks act as a deterrent against blatant misuse or use without permission. Yes, the logo/watermark could perhaps now easily be removed but it will still take some time and skill to do it right and most people would rather not deal with all that work.”
My choice has been to avoid using watermarks all together. I let the image speak for itself, unobstructed. Is there the potential someone downloads it and uses it as their screen saver? Yes. Can they take the image and print it out? Maybe. Does it affect my bottom line? No.
Here’s why: I’m a working photographer. I get paid to take images, and then through individual agreements with my clients I either license or give them images for their use. If someone who isn’t going to buy my photos, will never pay for my services, who isn’t a client goes and lifts an image from my site, it’s not a sale I would have made, so it doesn’t bother me—as long as they’re not profiting from it.
The only way I can see us controlling our images online would be greater restrictions to the fundamental infrastructure of the internet itself, which is not a freedom I’m willing to give up.
How do you protect yourself? Do you agree or disagree with Justin’s methods?
Justin Van Leeuwen is a Portrait & Commercial photographer based in Ottawa, Ontario. He spends too much time on twitter as @justinvl and also blogs large images that you can probably steal on his blog at www.JVLphoto.com.