For most people the internet is now an essential part of their work day and their social life, for others it is a place to look at videos and pictures of cats and for some it’s a means to vent their anger about other people’s videos, opinions or just their own lives. I’ve been writing this blog now since November and I think I’ve earned the right to get something off my chest whilst sticking to a photographic theme. The “Twitter rant” has become an accepted phenomena, but I’m introducing what may be more aptly deemed a “Flickr rant”!
My gripe is about “watermarking” photos. For those of you who have not come across it, watermarking is the act of stamping your name or website directly onto your images. I first discovered this tendency when scouring Flickr for inspiration for my own photography, but it was only when I starting writing this blog that my annoyance of this trend. I would find photographers that I really liked and try to post their images on my site with a view to commending their work, only to find that their name and web address was plastered across the middle of their image. Others had set their restrictions on Flickr to disable downloading and sharing of their content, making writing a blog an infuriating process. Consequently I quickly turned my attention instead to those photographers willing to share.
This reluctance to share is a trend that has become endemic in our society as a whole and has naturally seeped into the world of photography. The desire to hold onto what is yours is a social phenomenon that has grown as the internet has broken down the traditional boundaries associated with ownership. While many people (myself included) see the internet as a providing an opportunity to disseminate knowledge to enrich the public domain others see it as a means for others to steal their ideas.
A big driver for me when starting this blog was that as an amateur photographer I saw lighting and post processing effects in photographs that I liked, but struggled to find photographers that were forthcoming with how they achieved their effects. When I gained this knowledge myself, I thought I would share in my adventures for the benefit of others. There is no doubt that digital photography has enabled anyone with a camera to achieve photographic effects that would previously be open only to those applying photography as a trade. The resulting threat from amateur photographers seems to unsettle those budding professions seeking to cling hold of the knowledge that might allow others to achieve similar results.
Watermarking photos is a similar symptom of this protective mindset. I can only presume the logic is that “I’ve taken this photo, so why should anyone else be able to use it?”. But in response to that, I’d question what the photographer thinks people are going to use it for. If it was to be used commercially, the Creative Commons licence on Flickr ensures that you are appropriately credited for your work, potentially allowing for wide exposure for your work. Alternatively, if you feel uncomfortable about others using it for commercial gain, you can set a Commons Licence to restrict it being used to these ends.
If the concern is with people printing your images, then upload your images online in a smaller format. Your images can then be enjoyed and shared (and credited), but the resolution not high enough to print.
If the reason watermarking your pictures is for greater publicity by stamping your name or website, I would argue that this has an adverse effect. Perhaps I’m being naïve, but my view is that most people in the online community “play fair”. If they use your pictures, they will provide a credit and perhaps a link. Therefore, the wider the photos are used, the more likely it is that internet users will come back to you to view more of your work. Conversely, if you splash writing over the front of your photo, I would argue that it is unlikely that people will want to disseminate it at all, leaving your exposure as solely reliant on direct hits to your pages.
If there is a lesson to be learnt about sharing, it may come from the music industry. Whilst some artists and record labels have spent millions on legal challenges to bring down piracy (with arguably no long-term gain), others have used the power of the internet to widely spread the word about their work which in turn has resulted in their commercial success. The Arctic Monkeys are a prime example of this publicity model, who routinely gave their music away for free just so people could hear it. When they did release their first album, it became the fastest selling debut album in UK chart history.
The video below nicely sums up the history of copyright law and how it has grown in direct opposition to what it initially set out to promote. It’s 15 minutes long, but well worth the watch if you want a contrary opinion to those voiced by the power of multinational companies and record labels.
In the Flickrverse I always find it refreshing to find users who create textures and layers for others to share. Not only do users such ~Brenda-Starr~ and SkeletalMess allow others to benefit from their work, but they spend their own time and effort making textures for the purpose of enriching the public domain.
There will always be the possibility of internet users using your works without crediting them, or even promoting them as their own. But on the whole, the Flickr community play fair and it benefits because of it. The nature of the internet is such that some won’t, but I believe that these risks are outweighed by the benefits, not only to the public domain, but also to individual photographers wishing to further publicise their work.
I write this entry hoping that it might start some debate! I’ am more than open to the possibility that I am naively unaware of the dangers I am putting myself in but sharing my knowledge and my work. So please leave a comment below with your thoughts about watermarks and copyright. Do you feel that you need to protect your photos, or are you happy for them to be used and shared?
Phew … that’s better!! Thanks for reading.