Copyright infringement & Visible Watermarking

I know several photographers who won’t put their work on the web at all because they are worried about people stealing their pictures.  Of course with over 25,000 images on the web I do get some of mine used without permission, but it isn’t something I get too worked up about.

I don’t like getting ripped off,  but I don’t think I lose a lot of revenue – if anything the opposite. Probably most of the sites on the web where my work has been used without permission are the kind of sites that Alamy would sell a licence to for a couple of dollars or I would allow free use if they asked me and provided attribution and a linkback to one of my sites. Personal sites of people with an interest in photography or in some of the causes I also support.

Of course if I find my work on a commercial site things are different. I follow what many photographers I know advise and send the company concerned a polite letter pointing out the detail of their copyright infringement,  accompanied by an invoice for the usage – at double the price I would normally have charged.

According to a recent post on the BJP blog, quoting John Toner (who I was sitting a few feet from in the London Freelance Branch NUJ meeting last night,) “only 74% of photographers who pursued payment for copyright infringements received fair compensation” but this still seems a fairly good figure. Of course the actual proportion of infringements successfully pursued could be rather lower.  It is a tricky business pursuing debts through the courts – even for small claims – and winning your case doesn’t unfortunately guarantee you will ever get the money.

The figure comes from a report by the British Photographic Council which is covered in more detail on the EPUK web site (and can be downloaded from a link there in full) , which reported that almost three quarters of the photographers they surveyed were aware of infringements of their copyright (not all on-line) and that the average photographer was aware of 26 such infringements.

One response to image theft is to watermark images, either visibly or invisibly.  Invisible watermarking really only makes sense if you can afford the services of one of the companies that will crawl the web looking for use, and will have no effect on use off-line.  Although the pictures we put on the web are small – perhaps 600×400 pixels, these still suffice for reasonable size reproductions in newspapers, perhaps up to five inches wide at suitable quality. I’ve actually seen one of mine used as an A2 poster; it wasn’t pretty in photographic terms but it did the job.

Visible watermarking makes more sense for those of us without deep pockets. But I hate those sites – such as Magnum – where it can make some pictures almost impossible to see, let alone appreciate. One useful compromise is to add a border to the picture and add your copyright information on that rather than across the actual image.

I thought about that again last week, following a link from the Photo Attorney to Jim Goldstein’s site and one in a useful series of features about watermarking – and this one also deals with how to find copyright infringement of your work.  Although it’s perfectly possible for people to crop or eliminate watermarks from your files, most infringers don’t bother – they either don’t know about copyright laws, or think their usage is covered by “fair use” (and it may be – see the Photo Attorney site on the US position on this) or they don’t think anyone will notice.

Goldstein asks people who contact him for pictures where they saw his work. As he writes, it is  “the way I find some of the most surprising cases of not just infringement, but marketing.” The visible watermark turns infringement into a marketing too, but of course, once you know it is happening then you can decide whether it is worth sending an invoice or making a complaint.

Lightroom copright example
Lightroom 2.3 added this watermark automatically when the output option was checked

Lightroom, at least in the latest versions, does quite a nice neat job of putting your information from the ‘Copyright’ metadata field just inside your picture, though I can’t find any way to customise this at the moment. What I’d really like is to add a small border on the lower edge of the image with it in. But at the moment I can’t decide whether this is something I want to use.

2 Responses to “Copyright infringement & Visible Watermarking”

  1. I have been searching for opinions on what used to be standard practice in many studios, including the studio name on every photo. My Sr pictures in HS had the studio name nicely embossed on every size of every picture, from wallet to 8×10. Is this still done by anyone and if so, do people embed the name in the image or still use embossing?

    If that is still done, then something along the lines of the LR watermark above, only with a bit more style and font selection would be good for marketing as well as theft prevention.


  2. Lightroom allows you add a graphic watermark to prints, slideshows and web albums that can have an ’embossed’ appearance – there is a you-tube tutorial on this at
    (You can use text rather than a graphic if you don’t want an embossed effect.)

    But I don’t think you can do this from the develop module, which is where I output files for web use from.

    In the old days, reprints were valuable business for studios, but I think most people these days don’t find it economic. But you can still buy the old embossing presses used for prints for example at:

    There are a few photographers who still use these. And I think some Japanese use their ‘seal’ on prints – as they do on all documents they sign. You can get pens with these built in to the tops.

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