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Image Watermarking – A Personal View

By Association Member Robert Babylon


Copyright infringement may be seen as the curse of the artist in the digital age where exact copies can easily be made and passed from person to person. Like the tide, there is little point in trying to stand and hold it back, therefore giving up or using the fact to your advantage are the only two options.

My approach to watermarking is to make it obvious, but to try to keep it in the corner, and fade if it becomes intrusive. It needs to be big enough to show behind social networking sites who re-watermark images (or perhaps in opposite corners). I try to cover an aesthetically 'important' part of the image to discourage cropping, and on the while rely on people's natural laziness for them not to bother removing the watermark. Still many do, and some even do fantastic clone covers for the watermarks, almost restoring the image to it's 'original' state. People also scan from magazines, books and flyers and post these images. The demise of the print industry and rise of the e-zine make screen grabbing and reposting even easier. [NB Magazines don't like embedded credits much above visible size]'

So my policy is to keep tight control over high res images so that the max repro size of my on-line offerings is about A6 (A5 at a push - since people don't seem to notice the poor quality), thus I can make some sales of larger high quality images - how much depends on the depth of the recession. Reputable established repro houses are very good at client confidentiality to survive and are generally safe to trust with high res images.

Since I cannot control the sharing of my images I decided a while back to use it for promotion - and welcome non-commercial distribution of low-res versions as long as the watermark remained intact and the image was not altered in any other way. Mostly it works and since it's free promotion for me; I politely offer replacement watermarked images for personal use - however most people (men in particular) either swear and curse or just remove the photograph entirely.

All I ask for personal use is credit for my work, it is very hard work with long hours and I care passionately about my art; if someone thinks your image is good enough to post then it should be good enough to credit. Unfortunately credits alongside images, whilst well intentioned are useless when image are copied and reposted, thus the need for an embedded credit.

I don't chase bloggers and non-commercial users unless they fail to credit. I do ask people to request use of my images first, some do, most don’t. Sometimes when they fail to credit me and it's difficult to have the image removed or replaced I use the comments box to state copyright ownership and promote my website.

For example there is a YouTube video with nearly 2,000,000 hits - a bedroom Techno-mix with "The 3 UV Bums" as the sole image - for some seven minutes. http://www.youtube.com/all_comments?v=JUUQroEXAso.

Many of the comments praise the image highly. Thus a copyright infringement has resulted in an audience of possibly some 2-4 million people (assuming an average of 1-2 people near a screen at any time).

When it comes to commercial infringement I am in a better position than most to be strict since I have a small International team of friends who I can trust including: publishers, lawyers, native French, German, US and Russian nationals who understand their nation's copyright laws better than I do. They kindly work for prints, barter, or commission. Friendship should be kept somewhat apart from business and I find 'paying' my way (even at a discount) helps.

My current issues are with the Russians - although I believe they have signed up to the DCMA system they are reluctant to implement it. Vk.com do not accept emailed DCMA notices as they have their own internal form, which you have to join to access. Then they refuse to accept that and insist on paper documentation with proof of development stages of each image signed by a notary, sent to St Petersburg. Doubtless they will expect it in Russian... but I'm ready for that!

The Germans are tough on copyright infringement and the penalties are harsh. I believe the US proposes a system of registering copyright for every single image (at a cost of course). The UK has an 'orphan' copyright system which allows unlimited commercial use of works where the copyright is not clearly evident. The promise is that works can only be considered orphans after a 'diligent' search - a cynical person might question how diligent

Most publishers including the National Press, websites, advertising companies no longer employ picture researchers as it's cheaper to take what they want (even when the ownership is clear) and settle out of court if they get caught.

I want people to see my work - but I need them to know it's mine. I believe reverse image searches with date records are the way forward - they are the proof that provides protection for creatives. Blogging and commenting are fair use (as long as a credit is given) - making money from my hard work without paying is not acceptable.

I consider myself an artist, as I slipped into the role I forgot the bit about most artists only making money after they are dead, so I'm not a wealthy man - being an artist is an expensive business: galleries, travel, promotion, publicity, damaged and 'lost' works all devout any profit. The wise artist keeps their great artwork hidden and sells their unmade-bed instead. Art is like football - there's no money at the bottom, little at the middle and an obscene amount at the top.

Your art is your property and you are entitled to credit, respect and benefit from it.

Robert Babylon 03.10.13

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