Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Watermarks, Theft And Visibility

A giraffe stands on a cliff with his head above the clouds in an image about visibility, risk and awareness.
A giraffe stands on the edge of a cliff, his head above low lying clouds in an image illustrating concepts such as vision, risk and danger. I feel like this giraffe, embarking on a journey the outcome of which I cannot see clearly.

Watermarks And Theft
A few days ago I decided to check out 500 pix. Unfortunately, within the first five minutes of looking at 500 pix I came across an image that was doing rather well (a ranking of 97.5) that was, in effect, my image. That is, someone had stripped out an elephant sitting on a bench from one of my images and stripped it in to a room. There were quite a few comments congratulating the photographer on his creativity and so forth. I added a comment…that the image was my copyrighted photo and that he should take the image down immediately. A few minutes later he replied that the image was not mine and that he had downloaded the image for free off of the Internet.  I have seen the image floating around the net with a clumsy job of cloning out my watermark, but by stripping the elephant out of its original background the watermark, or area where it once was, was not included. BTW, the image was clearly mine with every wrinkle in the elephant’s skin matching my elephant.

Stock Photo Licensing And “Policing” Images
I clicked on the “Report This Image” button and fairly quickly 500 pix removed the offending page. 500 Pix is now selling stock photos. It strikes me that they may have their hands full policing the site…and dealing with model releases. I guess we shall see. In the meantime, aside from being steamed, I am wrestling with this whole Internet theft and watermarking issue.

Visibility Or Recognition?
In this new world of social media and sharing photos we can garner much more attention with minimal or no watermarks, but it sure opens up our imagery to theft. So what is better, to go for visibility and recognition, or try to maximize the protection of your imagery with large and intrusive watermarks? Emotionally I want to try and stop the theft, but logically I think it is probably better for one’s career to go for the visibility. If you take it to the extreme, you can totally prevent theft by never showing your work at all. And when your images are stolen, I suspect there really isn’t that much damage done financially to individual photographers (hey…don’t flame me for saying that), though collectively there sure is a lot of money being left on the table! Ultimately, if someone steals the image I get nothing, if they don’t steal I get nothing, but it they share it there may be profit for me in increased links, web traffic and visibility.

Benefits Of Recognition
Recognition works for us in multiple ways. With sufficient visibility it makes it much more likely your work will find those legitimate users with the money to license imagery, it certainly increases the odds of getting assignments, and it helps insure that you get the proper credit for your style or treatment of photography. When an art director or designer sees your portfolio, if they are already aware of you from other sources (think Internet), then they are much more likely to be appreciative and receptive to your book. If you are trying to earn money it is better to be known than unknown. So for now, I am going to reduce the size of my watermarks (I use ©johnlund.com so that people know where to go to license the image if they are legitimate licensors) and see what happens.