One question I get asked more then anything else is about copyright and how to handle sharing photos in this crazy world of the internet and social media. Watermarking, resizing, right-click disabling, to share or not to share… these are all important points and this is my take on it.
Perspective: As artists sometimes we get so caught up and paranoid in thinking people are going to steal our intellectual property that we lose perspective sometimes. Simply put, think of how many high resolution un-watermarked images are out there on the web. Regardless of how great yours may be, what are the chances of them using yours especially if you’ve taken precautions to resize and watermark when there is so much unprotected material out there. Of course the chance of this depends greatly on the amount of material available; uniqueness of your shot and the quality of the other alternatives.
On Sharing: My experiences have been that all parties benefit 10 fold from sharing as long as credit is given. Whether the images are from a job or just for personal use and fun, whats the point if you are the only one that gets to see them?? The possibility for networking and generating press and just getting the work seen is just too great not to take advantage. Posting photos from events and projects for customers gets everyone publicity and encourages search and page likes and even provides SEO benefits when done correctly. For each person that likes or comments on a gallery or photo it expands your reach exponentially! From a business perspective, quality photos provide visual content and get a lot more attention then simple text updates. Its not always possible to give credit for all people involved but I always try and encourage re-sharing, tagging, comments, and more whenever able. All of this is great, but not without risk.
On Risk: Of course we all want to protect our work, afraid of someone copying our concepts or flat up stealing the image without asking permission, giving credit, paying for usage, etc. In most cases this is out of simple ignorance – people dont know better and assume anything posted online is within the public domain. Some people do know better and do it anyway but usually not with any malicious intent. The topics below will help suggest ways to minimize potential risk.
On Watermarking: When posting on social media I highly suggest using a moderately visible watermark. If you go crazy overboard with something that covers the whole image or is so large that it disrupts the image then it defeats the whole purpose. The point of the watermark is to show the viewer that it was taken by a professional and who the image belongs to as well as to deter theft. The professionals that use large watermarks over the whole image or paste a massive logo that makes up about a third of the photo… they do this in attempt to make it difficult to remove in photoshop. In my opinions, its absolutely absurd and unnecessary and makes it less likely that someone would share the images at all, limiting exposure.
How to Optimize Images: I personally use the Copyright metadata field and export function in Adobe Lightroom. This way if I deliver images to clients even if they are unwatermarked and high resolution – if they choose to post them, most social media sites will use the copyright metadata field for the default caption. You can use either simple text or a logo to use when exporting with watermark. Having both a visible watermark and caption is ideal but not always feasible. If I expect the client will post the images I will create a web version that are already resized and watermarked for both protection on my end and convenience on their end. Sometimes they post the high res unwatermarked images anyways. I also use the keywords field for both organization and SEO purposes for the Smug Mug galleries – Picasa and Flickr also use these fields. I would check to see whether your preferred sharing interface uses the caption or keyword field – these services are always updating things. Also the gallery plugin on this wordpress site recognizes the keyword and caption fields when importing media. I usually size images to 900px to improve upload and download times and also deter theft – anyone looking to use the image for commercial purposes wont be able to use that for much especially with a watermark.
Legal: I’ll preface this with the fact that I am not a legal professional nor offer this as legal advice but rather just sharing personal experiences. I submit all images to the Federal Copyright Office with their eCO System several times a year through their bulk upload option. Separate individual uploads for special work-for-hire or other licensing options may be required when the client owns all rights to the images. The first time is always a little confusing but you can save your forms for future use to avoid aggravation. Technically when you take the image you own it and all rights to it, but filing it with the Federal Copyright Office gives you a lot more backup as well as options to legally delegate permissions and ownership.
Exceptions? You may have noticed there are no watermarks on the images displayed on this site. I did this to keep the images clean and visible with little distractions so they could be viewed undisturbed – straight from the source. Another protection method I did was remove the right click option. One of the best ways to circumvent people lifting your images is to make it easy to re-share… hence the social buttons all over this site.