By Adrian Klein
I touched on this topic in early 2012 on this blog with the post New Photography Copyright Laws – Where Do You Stand when SOPA and PIPA were the buzz acronyms making their way through the online world. Although that buzz died down the subject of image copyright continues to be a topic that brings many passionate opinions. The vast majority of us share our work online for good or for bad. Frankly I am not sure how you would maximize your photo business starting out today without an online presence including social media. Meaning we need to be taking proactive measures to protecting our work even though the reality is if you want 100% assurance it’s never used without your knowledge you simply cannot post it online.
On this topic a few weeks back I decided to do a little searching with tools at my disposal. Most links took me to social media sites where people marked my work as a favorite or shared it with their friends or otherwise benign uses. Whether you agree with me or not I am not going to get wrapped up in every little usage like some folks do, it’s simply not worth my time. I am primarily concerned with businesses that would be using it in way that can help with their profit or cause (using on website, in publication, etc). That said it did not take too much time to uncover uses of my work that I did not agree with and was unaware of.
Looking for my images online I used the two most common solutions, Google Images and TinEye. They seem to do pretty well and comparing the two I found more links with my work on Google Images than TinEye . Likely you already know of these yet if have not used them before and you have images posted online it’s worth some time to see if what they come back with your images. I do question the relevance of Google’s “Visually Similar Images” search returns. Often it was similar in colors but nothing more.
I then reached out to the offenders found during my searches and infringing uses were removed promptly. In one case I had good dialogue with a office manager that seemed to genuinely lack an understanding on which images are okay or not okay to use online. Regardless if the company is playing ignorant or not, they are paying my invoice for what I feel is a small sum for illegal use of my image by a business.
Regardless of what I talk about in the below sections one step is register your work with the US Copyright Office (for those of you reading this in the United States). This is the legal way to show you as the copyright owner of the photographs/images. Yes I know the moment an image is captured by a photographer it’s copyright is owned by that person yet legally that is not enough for most lawyers to take a case. There is always the chance images can be used illegally before you submit if you post through social media,blogs or websites frequently and submit infrequently to the copyright office. However the cost is cheap ($35) plus it’s easy to do, and it could help you down the road. I admit to falling behind on this and the images I had issues with were more recent and I had not registered them. Updated submission is complete and in the mail.
Another solution is applying a digital watermark to an image, in essence a fingerprint. Then a system crawls the web like a spider to return where your image is found (sounds like someone talking late 90’s world wide web speak). There are a number of solutions out there for putting “invisibile” watermarks on images yet for this post I will cover Digimarc for Images (DFI) by Digimarc. I put invisible in quotes since it’s not completely invisible in all cases which I get into detail below. I went with Digimarc for a number of reasons including how long they have been a leader in this space.
As a Photoshop user (most reading this are) you will already see Digmarc as an option under Filters. The thing is that unless you subscribe to the service the tracking data associated to the watermark cannot be modified and you cannot access their search database online. Both pretty important pieces. In order to get full functionality and access to their search database you need to signup.
For the majority of us posting quality looking web sized images online is important. If it’s too soft or too sharp or too pixaleted or other image degradation issues it’s not very inviting to potential viewers. That is why it’s important to pay close attention when applying the watermark.
Digmarc has videos and FAQs to help but here my steps to add:
1) Complete all your normal processing to the point you are ready to save for web (the digital watermark should be your last step).
2) In Photoshop go to Filter –> Digimarc –> Embed Watermark
3) Here choose what settings you want (if any) besides your Digimarc ID and the strength of the watermark. I normally choose strength 3 (default)
4) Click okay and the watermark is applied to the image
Here is where you need to decide whether to make additional changes to the file before saving it. Personally there places on certain images where it’s too noticeable for my liking (I wish they could truly make it invisible). The problem areas I notice most is clear skies and dark portions of an image. I don’t like seeing it, I paint out the watermark in these spots and leave it on the rest. After doing this I do the following to test the strength of the watermark.
1) Go to Filter –> Digimarc –> Read Watermark
2) Ideally it does not erase very much leaving strength in medium to high range. If the strength moves to low then you need to decide what is more important, the watermark strength or presentation.
Here are examples of images where you can clearly see the difference with and without watermark and other images where is almost no difference to the eye.
So how is Digimarc panning out for me? That is a good question I can answer down the road. I just started using the service and they say it takes at least a month before a user can potentially start seeing results through their online reporting tool. Additionally most of my work does not have DFI watermarking, meaning images already out there won’t found. I figure if they can report even a small number of unknown uses that other free tools are not picking up it’s worth the reasonable subscription price.
Use Discount Code = Cascadia20 to get 20% off a Digimarc subscription. If you have questions once you are signed up their customer service is great. I have had several questions and all were answered in significant detail within a couple business days.
Beyond using digital watermarking there are two other things I feel everyone should continue to do. Although neither of these will stop anyone from using your image they help keep honest people honest. It’s like locking the doors to your car.
1) Metadata: Ensure you have correct copyright and contact info in the metadata of your file. I have my name, website and copyright along with title, description and keywords.
2) Visible Watermark: Although the watermark was Photoshopped or cropped in cases I discovered that led me to this blog post, I still believe a relatively non-intrusive watermark of your name or company is beneficial.
Do you agree we should proactively take steps to protect or track our images before posting online? Have you cancelled your social media accounts over fears of illegal usage? What are your experiences and thoughts on this subject?
Location: Portland, OR
Adrian Klein has a passion for the outdoors and landscape photography that is endless. He has traveled the parks, shorelines and wilderness capturing images that represent each area through his own artistic eye from the curbs to the far off trails.