Two wrongs don’t make a (copy)right

I had my first image stolen long before I had my first image sold. It was a shock to realise that someone had taken my work and was using it to further their business without my permission. It triggered me to think about how I can protect myself from the same thing happening again, but without taking away from the experience of my genuine visitors and clients. In this post I want to talk a little about why I present my work the way that I do and hopefully hear back from you on what you think.

Selling an image has many steps – planning, capture, research, marketing, pricing & presentation to name a few.

To have an image stolen requires just two steps :

  • Make the image.
  • Put it out there.

It doesn’t have to be a good image, it doesn’t have to be available in high quality. ‘Out there’ means anywhere outside of your computer – given to a friend on USB, shared on Facebook, uploaded to your website. As a business owner, it seems that the easiest solution to image security is not put the image out there in the first place. But as a photographer, my motivation behind creating images at all is to share them with as many people as possible. Running a photography business, something has to give.

Photographer Chase Jarvis (@chasejarvis) often talks about photography as a cycle. His steps are :

  • Shoot
  • Share
  • Sustain

Breaking it down, you can see that sharing the image is just as important as the the capture itself. Obviously, keeping everything locked up is not the answer. But if your image is out there on the web, displayed to anyone who may wish to view it, how can you stop it from being copied and used elsewhere without permission? The truth to that one is that you can’t. While some techniques can make it more difficult, the short of it is that if you can see it, you can steal it.

The most popular technique that many photographers settle on is to place a watermark on their images – a logo or some words that mark the image as their own. This can be effective, but it has two main drawbacks :

  • The watermark is often placed near the edge of a picture, and can be cropped out.
  • The watermark acts as a distraction from the image itself, and obstructs the detail underneath it.

In the displaying of my images, I have thought about who is viewing them and what I am trying to achieve. If you have given me the attention of visiting my site, I want to make sure that the images you see are as large and as high-quality as possible. I want to reward my visitors and clients with beautiful pictures instead of rewarding the thieves by having to post my images in small sizes or with my name plastered all over it. The slideshow system I have adopted for presenting images in my blog lets me do just that. If you hit the full screen button, you will see a version of the image scaled perfectly to your screen – whether you’re on a 30″ LCD or a 3.5″ iPhone. I will soon be implementing the same system in my portfolio so that you can see all my images in the highest quality that your device allows.

At the end of the day, my strategy is no different to the one I started out with when that first image was stolen. But I feel confident in my decision to give visitors the best experience I can, and deal with any nasty copyright issues when they happen.

1 Comment

  • Tom
    Is there some kind of digital watermark you can encrypt photos with? If not it should be invented. Where it's not visible while on your blog but comes up if downloaded? I saw something similar once.