Why I Use Watermarks...and Why Others Don't
In the world of photography, watermarks are somewhat controversial. Some photographers swear by them, while others turn up their noses at them. I'm in the former camp, however I'll state that I put a very small, partially translucent, and (I think) tasteful watermark on my photos. I am not a fan of large watermarks that cover up most of the image (no offense to those that use them). Obviously people that use those kind of watermarks are getting their images stolen a lot less often, but I think it severely detracts from people's enjoyment of your work, and when I share my work, I want people to enjoy it. So here are the reasons why I use small watermarks as well as reasons why others don't use watermarks at all. If you're not a photographer, this may help you understand the purpose of watermarks (beyond the obvious), and if you are one, maybe this will help you make up your mind about whether you should be using one or not.
It Adds a Bit of Branding to Your Work
I think a small copyright notice or watermark in the corner of your photo tells people, "This is my work and I'm proud of it." It's like signing your work, but digitally. A painter may actually sign his painting, and I print my name in the corner.
It Reminds People Your Work Is Protected by Copyright
All creative works are protected by copyright in the United States the moment they are created (read more about that in this post), but most people don't realize that. A small watermark gently lets people know this, and (hopefully) encourages them to ask before using it.
It Helps Protect Against Copyright Infringement
Ok, I am completely aware that it is very easy to clone or crop out the small watermarks I use. I am not under any delusions that using a watermark magically protects one against all forms of copyright infringement, but it does protect against some. It keeps the honest people honest. Some people just don't get that you can't just do whatever you want with a photo because you found it online, but well-meaning folks that come across a photo with a watermark are much more likely to ask before they take it. I'd rather have something that helps a little than not at all.
If Your Photo Does Get Stolen, It Lets People Know Who Took It
Yes, I know, this is in the event that the infringer doesn't first remove the watermark. A lot of people are too lazy to do that, though! I've had my photos stolen a number of times with the watermark left intact.
Also If Your Photo Gets Stolen, You Have a Stronger Legal Case
If a person steals your photo that had a watermark on it, they can't easily claim it was an innocent mistake (they may try to, but they don't have a very good case). This is especially true if they don't even bother to remove the watermark (and yes, as I said, this has happened to me). How can they say they didn't know it was copyrighted when they left your copyright symbol right on the work? Luckily I use a service called Pixsy to find and fight image theft, and their legal team seeks retroactive royalty fees for unauthorized commercial or organizational use of my photos. Plus, if the infringer removes the watermark and you can prove they did so knowing they were infringing, the copyright owner can potentially collect up to $25,000 in damages (read more about that here). Pixsy always asks me when I submit a case whether the infringer added a watermark, replaced a watermark, removed a watermark, or if there was no change.
So those are the reasons why I personally use a small watermark, but some photographers really abhor watermarks. Here are the main reasons I've seen cited (and why I personally disagree with them):
They Are Too Easy to Get Rid of
That may be true, but you might as well make a little more work for people, and as I stated above, it still gives you a stronger legal case potentially if they do get rid of it.
It Decreases One's Enjoyment of the Photo
I think this is true if the watermark is large and overbearing, unprofessional looking, or placed right in the center of the photo, but I've never had a small corner watermark deter from my enjoyment of anyone's photos.
You Should Expect People to Take Your Photos If You Post Them Online Anyway
Trey Ratcliff, a photographer whose work I've followed for years, is a huge opponent of watermarks, and this is one of his main reasons. My rebuttal to this is while I accept that copyright infringement will happen if I choose to share my photos online, that doesn't mean I won't fight it when I can.
So, if you're a photographer, do you use watermarks or not, and why? If you're not a photographer, how do you feel about seeing watermarks on photos?
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