Why Watermark Creative Property

In Blog by Martin Sekel

Artists, photographers and creative folk expend a huge amount of effort, creative energy, and quite often invention, in their work. History was a pretty safe place for artists. Unless you were dead and had a piece of art (now with ridiculous value attached) hanging in a gallery that only a select few could visit you could pretty much bet that your work – your creative property – was safe and sound.

With the advent of cameras and copying machines protecting and controlling the propagation of creative inventory and copyright became a little harder but was still somewhat manageable.
Then come the digital age and the internet!

Today anyone with an internet connection can search online, save and re-use any of the billions and billions of photos, illustrations, icons, mosaics, drawings and the like that will be found and displayed for them in seconds. Man, they can even do it from the toilet or sitting on surfboard for that matter!

Ok, so if there are so many billions of images and photos online why should anyone care or want to watermark or deface ‘their’ own work? Like as if anyone is going to find it in the haystack anyway right? Or even if someone does seem to ‘happen’ across your cool image, that was watermarked, that they would want to even use the defaced work without permission anyway – they’ll just go find another clean one.

Privacy is dead (which is another topic entirely) but ownership of property, more specifically digital property, has, for some, confused the borders of title, permission and the ethics of use ever so extensively blurred.

How many times have you heard “Just do a Google image search and use one of them”? Chances are that you’d be stealing – yes, as in theft – someones hard work and property.

Let’s get one thing perfectly clear. Just because an image in online does NOT mean you can use it without the express permission of it’s creator.

The creator of the work may make their living from it.

I for one have many years of invested experience, hardware and software behind my creatives. I prefer presenting my work online at fairly large resolution in order to present it with a larger impact as I believe it deserves. In doing so I am open to the fact that people may, if they choose, take my images and use them without my permission. So I watermark my larger images and graphics. If on the other hand someone does use an image, without defacing or hard-removing the watermark at least I get a plug. I generally try and mark my images in a place that makes it difficult, if not impossible, to remove the mark without defacing the quality and effect of the image.

There are software services like Digimark that allow us to invisibly or digitally watermark images in such a way that retains the complete and visual integrity of our images and creative whilst providing a discoverable element to their potential use. What does that mean? Let’s say for example that an image thief decided to use one of my digitally watermarked images online and in either a commercial or non-commercial setting without my permission – the Digimarc service, which scans the web regularly will find my image (yes, even if it has been cropped or renamed etc) and inform me! Pretty cool right?

Just a note: Why not approach the owner of a work you may be interested in using and ask them for permission. They will feel honoured. You will also be acting in integrity and you may just be surprised at their response.

You could always make legal use of images by using a service like the novel idea proposed by imgembed. Each image you use contains a credit and allows tracking by the artist that has allowed it’s use.

Now I’m not saying that I am an angel and have not done wrong in the past with respect to someones copyright but that’s exactly my point. It is both technically and emotionally very easy to fall to the temptation of using other peoples creative property without their express permission. Think about it.

Have you ever used someones pictures without their consent? Do you watermark your own work? Does it bother you when you see online images watermarked?