To watermark or not?

As some of you may have noticed, I tend to stick a big ugly copyright symbol on most of my images.

The photography community (and myself) is divided on whether one should slap a copyright logo on photos or not.

On one hand, it can be distracting and detracts from the image on the whole. On the other hand, it gives you a little added protection.

Legally (at least in the United States), as soon as you, the photographer, press that shutter button, that image is copyrighted. You own it. Any usage of the image without your permission is theft and a violation of the copyright laws, and you can take legal actions. However, it is a lengthy, expensive process. It’s also difficult to prove monetary damages in the courts (moreso if you haven’t registered the image with the Copyright Office). Most average photographers don’t have the funds or resources go down the lawsuit path. They can try sending a DMCA takedown notice, which is sometimes successful.

When I first switched to dSLR, about six years ago, I didn’t put a copyright logo on my images before posting them online; I didn’t think they were that great and thought nobody would want to use them. I was wrong.

People “borrowed” *cough*stole*cough* a few of my photographer pals’ and my images, and when challenged on it, they invariably had one of these reactions:

  • I didn’t know it was copyrighted.
  • There’s no copyright logo on it, so I thought it was okay.
  • It’s digital/online, what’s the big deal?
  • Prove that it’s your picture!

Gah! How utterly frustrating.

Some people think that, because digital photos are largely intangible, and are (seemingly) easily created, it doesn’t have a value. Look at it a different way: it’s a form of plagiarism. Thieves copy other people’s work and pass it off as their own. If you took hours to write an essay, and someone nonchalantly copied passages for their own essay and passed it off as their own work, how would you feel? Cheated.

I successfully got most of the stolen images removed from websites, and started sticking a copyright logo on most pictures posted on my blogs. I debated on how large to make the copyright logo. Some photographers opt to make them small and unobtrusive, but that just makes it easy for thieves to crop out or photoshop out.

My decision? For the blog version: make the logo as ridiculously big as possible to make it harder on the thieves. Why make it easy on them? I don’t put a copyright logo on the flickr version because it’s a little more difficult to rip (but not impossible) pictures off there if you disable sharing & downloading.

I also started downsizing the pictures to 600px width – making it more difficult for people to use them for anything but a small web image.

Why make it easy for thieves to steal your photos? You worked hard to earn money for that camera and lens, to learn how to use it. Your pictures have value. People should pay you for your time and energy.

At least that’s my take on this. What do you think?



  1. My sister encouraged me to watermark my photos shortly after I started blogging. I feel better with it on there, though I do have a tendancy to make it small and unintrusive, which is something I need to work on. I’m more inclined to worry if the photo in question is something i’m particularly proud of and don’t want stolen. But on the other and I don’t want my photos to be so dramatically altered by a watermark that it changes the composition of the photo either.

    • Yeah, your reason is why I initially hesitated on whether to put a copyright logo on mine. I debated for awhile, and when I thought about the last copyright violation, and how pissed off I was, that helped me make the decision.

      I might change my mind later on, but for now, it works. And people can, if they like, see the flickr version without the logo – I usually post copies of the images there sans logo.

  2. I hate watermarking, but for my last set of pictures I did not get paid for my time at the event. Selling the images is the only way I will get any money back, I’m gutted to see people copying the watermarked images to Facebook already. Most people don’t realise it’s not just a click of a button, you wouldn’t steal a page from a book, you shouldn’t do it for an image.

  3. Thanks for subscribing to my blog. Your blog is very interesting! I’ve debated back and forth between watermarking and not. I used to do it but have seen how easy it is for someone to remove it anyway. Anything I post on my blog is kept small, usually 450 pixels on the long end and I don’t save it at max resolution either. I try to keep it 150 kb or smaller.

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