Thoughts on Watermarking, Copyright, and Creative Ownership

by Hannah

see. beauty.

Creative ownership is, to put it lightly, a pretty touchy subject among professional photographers. Many have very strong opinions about watermarking, and about use of images without permission, etc. I have read and observed a lot, and have come to my own conclusions as far as what I believe is best for my business, but first I want to cover a few key points.

First, the photographer is the owner of their work. It is his or her art- yes even if the subject is you, even if you hired the photographer to take the photograph- you still need to get permission to use or reproduce said photograph. Usually that permission comes in the form of purchasing a print or digital file. I see photographers online all the time with the same story about a client who bought a 5×7 and scanned it and got 8×10’s made from the scan at your local superstore (no names named, but one with a smiley face logo comes to mind..), or the client who right-clicked or took a screenshot of a photograph on the photographer’s blog, and posted it on Facebook or printed it out. Technology has made it so very easy to do those things- so easy, in fact, that many people don’t even know that they shouldn’t, and especially don’t know why they shouldn’t.
I am not pointing any fingers here, I promise (so far I have had stellar clients and have not had these things happen, as far as I know).

There are a few reasons why doing the above is not okay. For one thing, it is bad for the photographer’s business. There is the obvious- you’re saving money- so your photographer is not making money from the sale. The cost of doing business for a photographer is much higher than many people realize, and we rely on sales in order to make money (dug, I know, but a reminder nonetheless). A lot of hard work and creativity goes into running a creative business, and the chief complaint I hear from many photographers is that do not feel they are respected as an artist and professional.
The not-so-obvious downside is the quality of the reproduction. Professional photographers work with professional labs, usually carefully chosen for their exceptional image quality. The smiley-face-logo superstore I mentioned does not provide quality that meets the standard of most custom photography businesses, and as a photographer I would not want a potential client to see my images printed poorly, as that could reflect on my work. I know that many other photographer feel exactly the same way. Not only that, but we want you to have amazing quality. Isn’t that why you hired us to begin with?

As far as posting images online without permission- I know this is where a lot of people just have no idea. The rule of thumb I suggest is, just ask if its okay.
For my business, personally, I want my clients to post their photos on Facebook, etc. I make low-resolution digital files available for purchase, and include them in all of my print collections. But, I ask that a copyright notice and link to website is always included with the posted photo. I, along with most of my fellow photographers, rely primarily on word-of-mouth to lead people to my business. If no credit is given, no business is gained.

Here is where we get into watermarking. As you may have noticed, I used to watermark every single image I posted online. I didn’t ever really like doing it, but I wanted to deter people from using my images without permission, and solve the issue of posting without giving me credit. Many professional photographers watermark, and I completely understand why, but have chosen not to do so anymore. One day I was perusing another photographer’s blog. She takes absolutely gorgeous photographs, and yet as I scrolled down, the watermark was the first thing I noticed about every image. It made me sad. This is my career and the source of my income, but it is, first and foremost, my art. I want people to see and enjoy it. So I decided to stop watermarking, to ask clients to post credits as I mentioned above, and to hope that people will respect me enough not to steal my work, to ask permission, and to give credit where credit is due. I know that not everyone will, but if someone wants to steal, they will anyway- watermark or not.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this- it is just something I have been thinking about lately.

Okay, now back to our regular August Break programming… : )

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2 Comments to “Thoughts on Watermarking, Copyright, and Creative Ownership”

  1. I have just recently started watermarking the “professional” photos. The every day ones I leave alone. I started it because I’ve been only really taking pictures of friends/events and they keep asking for free copies for their own use. I wanted some way of showing that it was my work and not theirs, if you know what I mean. But it is a difficult issue indeed. Thanks for sharing your views.

  2. It makes me sad that people even have to worry about watermarking an image. I agree that usually the first thing you see is the big watermark. It does take away from the look of the photo. Great post, thank you for sharing.

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