Someone wrote to me today and asked me why I watermark my images. They asked if just limiting online posting to lo-res images was enough. I guess the answer depends on knowing why I watermark images in the first place. If you aren’t familiar with the term, watermarking refers to putting the copyright symbol and a name or website on an image before distributing it digitally. In my case it looks like: “© 2011 Timothy Faust”

Here is an example:

[single_lightbox url=”” image_url=”” image_width=”350″ image_height=”” title=”A couple posing for an engagement photo in Leadville, Colorado. Notice the watermark at the bottom of the image.”]

You see a lot of people assume photographers watermark their images to prevent or deter theft. For me, this isn’t the case at all. I understand that if people really want to “steal” my images, there is really nothing I can do to stop that. I also understand that there is a trade-off in photography between protecting my copyright and getting my images out there for people to see. So my watermark has a different purpose entirely.

[textbold]First, [/textbold] I understand that people have legitimate reasons for downloading and saving my images. One of the most common is potential wedding clients saving images that they like or are inspired by. Second, are magazine photo editors and web designers that will download photos in order to create “comps.” Comps are layouts that they test before picking images for the final publication. In either case, I want my website on the photos so that that the potential client knows how to contact me. I actually encourage people to save my images. It acts like a little business card on their computer. All they have to do is open them up and they see my name and website at the bottom.

[textbold] Second, [/textbold] and more disappointing is that some people will eventually steal and image. Now, I am not really worried about someone liking an image and putting on their personal Facebook page or saving it to their computer. However, there have been several cases where a large company that should have purchased a license for an image has used it on their website. I have even caught other wedding photographers using one of my images and trying to pass it off as their own. In these cases the copyright watermark serves a completely different purpose. Since I know everything I publish online has a watermark on it, it makes for a very strong legal case in the fact that they removed my watermark becomes evidence that the infringement was willful. This allows me a lot more bargaining power when the matter of monetary damages is discussed. Again, I generally only proceed down this avenue when a company is using one my images without permission for monetary gain.

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