To Watermark or To Not Watermark – The Sequel

image protection, plagiarism, cease and desist, copyright infringement, image licensing, intellectual property

2012 was an interesting year for me artistically. In some ways it was a fruitful period in my career and I’ll always look back on that time fondly. Back then, I posted, the original installment to this one believing that I probably would never have to revisit the subject again (if you haven’t already read that post, hopefully you’ll click the bright bold type you just read and absorb the older post too – it’s not even as long as this one).

As it turns out, every now and then someone writes me or comments on one of my blogs – usually the Hammer Home Street Photography Project, to let me know in a descent and constructive way that they wish that I didn’t watermark my images. Some even recommend that I use a less powerful colour than red in my watermark. I totally get that and respectfully provide them with a link to the original post. I’m now calling that post Part 1. After reading Part 1, some of the concerned write me back saying that they understand my point of view, and leave it alone.

Do they continue visiting the MOF blog or Hammer Home afterwards? It seems that some do but most don’t. Oh well. It’s not the end of the world. To me, far worse is the plagiarism that I – a not so famous but still quite proud professional artist, stand to face by stupidly not following my own advice from back in 2012.

Case in point: After posting one of my photographs on the main MOF blog in that year but prior to that particular post, I learned that it began to gain considerable attention from others from my plot on the atlas very quickly. That attention has been sustained ever since.

There were some calls from credit unions and other institutions requesting permission to use the picture but most refused to continue discussions the moment I advised them of my licensing options that would have to be obtained under one of my agreements. We didn’t even get to talking turkey. Just the mere mention that I’m prepared with image licensing options was enough to scare many off immediately.

It’s funny how that works. A great many people continually relegate the arts and artists as unimportant special interest activities and groups but are always in great need of our abilities, services and products. Of course, they always want that insufficiently respected talent for free, and assume that all artists have our heads in the clouds.

Despite being well aware of the popularity of the picture, and quite literally desperately wanting to place my trust in my fellow human being, I didn’t backtrack to update that blog post with a watermarked version of that shot. I’ll bet you already know where this is going. Here it comes . . .

This year (2015 for anyone reading this post much later), I discovered that picture was lifted from its post and used elsewhere without even giving TheMOFMan a word of credit, never mind asking permission. Here’s a screenshot of the webpage:

image protection, plagiarism, cease and desist, copyright infringement, image licensing, intellectual property

Instead of immediately jumping half-cocked at the offender using my picture, I took the time necessary – I will not specify chronology or length, to make some careful arrangements. I then, in October, contacted him with this email;

Subject: CEASE AND DESIST DEMAND

Olu Jegede
Jegede Real Investment Inc.
69 Bimini Crescent
Toronto, ON, M3N 1S1

Dear Mr. Jegede:

I, Allan Hamilton, am the owner of a copyright in various aspects of a landscape photograph that I have titled “Everything’s Waiting for You”. I created the skyline image of the City of Hamilton years ago. The first time that I ever posted it on the Internet was on my blog for Modes of Flight in early 2012 without watermarking and other precautions that I since take to protect my images. The actual post is here:

You can see that I have now edited that post with a watermarked version of “Everything’s Waiting for You”. I have edited that post after recently discovering that you have begun to use the image, without my permission, on your website:

I am writing to notify you that your unlawful use of my landscape photograph infringes upon my exclusive copyright. Accordingly, you are hereby directed to

CEASE AND DESIST ALL COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT.

Canada’s Office of Consumer Affairs has provided a Harmonized List of Prohibited Collection Practices, revised April 25, 2003, (the “Prohibited Practices”) that provides a minimum level of restrictions on collection agents and protections for Canadian consumers from collection agents. Any restrictions and protections contained in the list that are greater than the Prohibited Practices are also applicable to any collection activities between you and myself for the account.

Please give this very important matter the utmost attention.

For your awareness, I have begun preserving evidence of your unlawful copy and use of “Everything’s Waiting for You”. Your actions constitute copyright infringement in violation of Canadian copyright laws. If you continue to engage in copyright infringement after receiving this letter, your actions will be evidence of “willful infringement.”

I demand that you immediately cease and desist your unlawful copying and use of “Everything’s Waiting for You”, and I am providing you with two (2) options:

  1. Remove the picture “Everything’s Waiting for You” from your website and provide me with prompt written assurance, all within ten (10) days, that you will cease and desist from further infringement of my copyrighted works; or
  2. Advise me within ten (10) days of your interest to become a Modes of Flight (MOF) client and lawfully, responsibly and professionally use the image “Everything’s Waiting for You” under a licensing agreement, which will be proposed to you after you have clearly explained your image use requirements to me.

If you do not comply with this cease and desist demand within this time period, I will be entitled to use your failure to comply as evidence of “willful infringement” and seek monetary damages and equitable relief for your copyright infringement. In the event you fail to meet this demand, please be advised that I will communicate to you that I will contemplate pursuing all available legal remedies, including seeking monetary damages, injunctive relief, and an order that you pay court costs and attorney’s fees. Your liability and exposure under such legal action could be considerable.

Before taking these steps, however, I wish to give you one (1) opportunity to discontinue your illegal conduct by complying with this demand within ten (10) days.

Sincerely,

Allan D. Hamilton

Did I bluff? Not in the slightest. I meant every freakin’ word of that correspondence, and I was fully prepared to take him to task. Two days later, he responded:

I brought this attention to my web designer who inadvertently selected the image for use without your permission.

The picture has been removed.

I apologize for inconvenience caused.

Best regards

Sure enough, the picture had been removed and I’ll continue to periodically check to make certain that it stays that way. Apparently he too is disinterested in my licensing options.

My last correspondence to him:

Much appreciated Mr. Jegede,

Sincerely,

Allan D. Hamilton

I really am sincere too. There are those out there who are so stubborn that they’d still push the envelope. I’m very glad that this individual doesn’t seem to be one of those. I truly wish him well.

I still, gladly, give permission for some to use my work for free in certain circumstances but they must still ask. Thanks again to all those who have. I do frown on those who don’t. It’s not just about money it’s about R-E-S-P-E-C-T! Self-respect, respect for my art and respect for artists broadly. I don’t play!

I won’t divulge exactly how I discovered that my picture was being used without my prior consent but there are a number of ways for you, wherever you are in this world, to search for your images being used online. Some of them are:

• Google Images;
• Tin Eye;
• Digimarc; and
• Picscout.

No, copying images off of the Internet and using them without permission isn’t any sort of a shock in this day and age but hey, if you are a serious professional artist – new or seasoned, and you want to be respected, at the very least watermark your images.

Yes, there are other ways to protect your images. Seek them out and apply them too without broadcasting your every defense tactic.

Yes, by watermarking you’ll create detractors from your work but you can live with that.

Yes, there will be those willing to crop or otherwise edit out your watermark but you’ll cut down the number of potential abusers considerably. Most will think it’s not worth their time when they feel they can get another suitable image much cheaper and easier.

Watermark your images!

Now I have two links to provide to anyone who writes in to tell me that my big ol’ red logo is a huge distraction when viewing my art. Time will tell if I have to make another post on this matter again.

25 thoughts on “To Watermark or To Not Watermark – The Sequel

  1. Ha, ha…I have had photos stolen out of a gallery…ha,ha,…I see it as an honour! Do not lose sleep over it, in our digital world it is easy to make another if needed. BUT I do respect your feelings and stance on the subject and still visit to admire your photos!! xx

  2. All images are protected by copyright, regardless of whether it is who is the photographer or not. And there is no need for text in the style of» is protected by copyright >>.
    When you ertappar them, it’s just send a Bill. Today there’s a lot of data stored in images, it is easy to prove that it belongs to you. But I can understand that there is a problem for artists. And a lot of work to watch. The world is full of dishonest people. Do not understand at all why.

    • Absolutely. The trick with watermarking is advertising. It is a minority of artists in the entire world who can earn a living just off of their art. To increase that potential, they must generate recognition even if, like me, they would prefer their art to be more recognized than themselves, they have to advertise and get themselves known for the great work they do. That’s why artists also have to network considerably.

      People who use the work of artists without permission, almost never give credit to the artists. Many times, an image can even be taken from sources who also aren’t the creators so it gets really difficult for someone to even know who the actual artist is. A watermark serves to remind someone that there’s a creative mind behind what has been produced, and they deserve recognition for it.

      Before just taking it and using it, someone should try to contact the artist and see if there can be some credit given, even if it isn’t monetary.

  3. Maybe I had the wrong though.. The copyright symbol (©) has no legal significance in Sweden. And so is the case with all countries that have signed the so-called Berne Convention. But there are countries that do not belong to it, but the World Convention, and where is the copyright symbol as a condition of the image is protected by copyright. So therefore it can of course be good to use the copyright symbol on your picture will be distributed internationally to a great extent.

    • Not everything that’s globalized is good but it is good that copyright law is originally an international understanding. It creates a fairly even playing field for most countries (at least for first world nations). The differences in how copyright law is carried out in the varying nations is moderate.

      Here in Canada, it is also not essential that the copyright symbol (©) be visible on art. I believe that was also done away with in the US long ago, even though illustrators like Boris Vallejo and Julie Bell still add the symbol to their paintings and drawings.

      I don’t use the symbol in my work but I can definitely see where adding it might be beneficial in those countries that still insist that it be visible in order to recognize my art as being protected.

  4. I watermark my stuff too, but it’s easy to remove watermarks or crop them out. Often a watermark can be enough for someone who’s looking for a picture to steal, to head to the next blog.
    In a case like yours, I would have sent them a bill for using my photo on their website.

    • Yeah, over here, in a case like this, it’s kind of expected that before aggressively pursuing compensation through an actual suite or simple billing you first engage with a cease and desist letter. It’s my understanding that under common law, a court here could frown upon my actions as being overly aggressive or overly litigious. Plus I would have to be certain as to how long the person has been using my image for to base a bill on.

      In this case, I have evidence to show that he likely had been using the photo since 2013. Invoicing him to that effect; however, could result in a situation where I would still have to take him to court for not paying up but for the equivalent of the bill as opposed to potentially more had he refused to comply with my original demand. It’s a bit of a catch 22.

  5. I’ve always admired your photography and work, Allan. Sounds like your image was probably on their website for a while. Very disrespectful of them but glad you got that all sorted. It’s amazing how many people think that they can “use” any image they can get their hands on online however they please. There’s certainly the mentality going round that once you put an image up online, it’s basically giving it away.

    When I started my blog, I didn’t watermark my images. The longer I blogged, the more I got to know photography blogs and that sparked my interest in taking photos. Now I watermark my photos and hope no one steals what I put up. I also put up my watermarked photos resized to a small file size so if anyone tries to make it bigger or blow it up, the image wouldn’t be that great of quality.

    • Good!

      Some people don’t care if anyone uses their images without permission or have concern but don’t do anything because they’re convinced that someone who is determined to rip you off will no matter what. While I know there’s some truth to that, I can’t just lay down and let people walk all over me without a fight. I work too hard for this. I have to try to protect my images.

  6. Actually, as we talked about your watermarking before (for me it looks itself like piece of Art), it is strange that somebody asks you do not watermark the pictures. It is common practice and it shouldn’t be discussed at all.

    • Yes, it is kind of strange that someone would ask me or advise me to stop watermarking but I also know that stranger things have happened in this world.

      I’ve heard some complain to other photographers and illustrators that it’s too much of a distraction; ruins the enjoyment of looking at the image. I’ve seen some pretty gaudy watermarks and artist signatures, and they still fail to be a hindrance to my being able to see the work.

  7. I do not watermark my pictures, but only publish a small version that you cannot really print – and I put copyright information, etc. in the meta text.
    I know, someone might still steal a picture – but other then using it for a web site, they are too small.

  8. Sometimes watermarking isn’t enough. I just found one of my photos on 35 websites. Only one of them is using it legit (and that’s me posting it in my blog). Some of the sites have cropped out my watermarking, some has put their own watermark on top of mine, but most of them have just posted my photo with the watermark.
    One site tries to be fair and give credit, but it gives credit to a site that stole the photo, even when the watermark is clearly visible!
    It’s the photo in this post, an HDR shot I took in Grenoble: https://cardinalguzman.wordpress.com/2012/09/27/hdr-grenoble/

    If anyone’s interested, they can do a google image search with the photo and see the results (I did, but the link is so unbelievably long that I won’t post it here).

  9. Here’s the link on the image search. Google has removed one of the sites because I filed a complaint:
    https://www.google.com/search?tbs=sbi:AMhZZivXVvTN4ZjPP6NUurmtkxgvj_1GdYcxRh9j-dmzPI8ffAknWZZPvqXSa7J7_1c-C-gs-pjVAPmrvUL-AHIbln8JW0Bs_1U5B4ZLI9la0lCs2Brc2rPCX-xCF4bjDJy_1Agm27wVrNdfADP7JMdwWr4BxPnfClQfgjqpam6UeyXccgxOWf7jw9qyeDwFDFQhC247m9axlbMaMutOUbQLFvaQ2bmTEA4l16W6d20S-BQ4fSAKAzRu8YJpwweVd1rLtFbPmaGRTQPDn4tSdGvXWrRt4LmkY9crPj4BG7ayA41OCmGJ3xbKAzbQzlJ2VjJBnSFw2XokQkrgjR5tvi1KP9igeF010EpsDgh-FZ535XvAbVZBwF7ETIWVAJBgWnVx8LbckDYo6UPYvSHDWcPdjjGR2rOuE9fl4LjjuFYSvSxEzfiwSC8EcTX_1c08d-wHhU3lOzAmdiD1yN34zi_1htRMpVtTaW3B6zR0kSAJ8rZPobaRJRkB0-qQJ0433bL1AZKfy8BQkZqqiuyHef1E7h0iGmCWdsFWF5rW3EKzESuWELuqH_10uA-c4D9r0qUdd6svaOBnsq9DNHEoMeBolzvUYx12wI29blWN15HcVXoVHDTfhypZyQdCF4RTctjor49MFHehB77DBLNmxurnQgv50VtXlWgKv-GxXfLd0WkfsLAmqcKcK4yeesM3Esp-ZPQjgBE2ZuC5lab7FgqIZGcynxnXdHA0srT3RZxQjJyYxmNKQN8J6PkhKT1G2ic0WYu_1CW-dwiib3ARrk1NQrDT0fEMqdIwS3Hg7iD1e71_1y-53LUw2wYfeqaXRVT9AWQS4hjwmFWmMQSdf1QFxTzB41MBmsbgi_1-zqQGI80CVraOMMuzLWN84dY03VFn_1khs7Uiz17OdNIPFBpnZhCzlib0JMK86oppZKtU_1ab0uBI9zj69p8KQyiPTRF2aRG6X4OX_1W1khSXFbMGHGMxhfFh48EzRZWC_1QuSaOALa6WAa-cT5v6oIEbfuxkNOaem9lWMWiUoHzRrUN1ktomkHFLjhbdmMfYhIKeUquRRKahARIgGRcQ92q36ip3G_1KLKuOvTRJcxBYRiUhfXL_1jtuUOhZcL8Qe6tzKm1_1drLE9SdQDkrj3KHondAM8OyMfVcz2yuRyjQFcMOcLAI_1e4IZF8J7FoZE7CAK3X5HrxRUoG5YOYn_1C78uRVY9Tz2tW865PX022dJtSHhaYIvv7d9InVMZ2aZn0x9WghOWwfRFupZIwte66fNhe85n1gwaAo5Eli57fRYRLIIz180FUa_1zmP_1fEz0ZJ4Q-iSwt2D_1c_1izxVahQgVcDnTqhXhrl-nSG-l7Bn7X2WQTVjkp7ZoPPWpB6IQVH3ss6pM-iOHK4-I92Ig80a-bKNDKcH44YU-WL8_1Fl5LDHBwxome4sDivdXrew2IT25Bg12_1q8sXIS9FyEPch4Lw6srlRkC8fsKTRDtB-3ABxPyH3WkGsc5gRINyl3Cw1hxetlbPLfrRgtg5fCQtpenKYRYp0gIF4yEtEg9zb7A14DdJKsVgFw&hl=no

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