Thoughts, information and reflections about technology

Why you need to watermark your images.

There was a Pinterest “Similar Pins” email in my inbox. I saw a photo that looked similar to one of my photos I had published on one of my sites. I double checked and sure enough, someone had stolen my photo and used it on another site. Worse yet, the original site had been taken over by a spammer.

I carefully compared my original image with the image on Pinterest and came to the conclusion that my image had been used without authorization or permission. The site it was supposedly posted on was a historical society site. Apparently someone from the society used my image on the society’s site without asking for permission. I would have probably given permission had they asked as I have done so before in similar situations.

Let me say that the photo in question would be lucky to earn a “C” in a photography class. The issue isn’t necessarily the intrinsic value of the image. Rather it is the damage that copies do to your search engine standings and, more importantly, that stolen images could put you in the absurd position of being sued for using your own images.

The domain for the society appears to now belong to someone hawking exercise equipment. They are getting traffic from old links to the historical society.

To Summarize what happened:

  • I took and published a photo on a site without watermarking it.
  • Someone at a historical society copied the image to their site without authorization or permission.
  • The image ended up pinned by someone on Pinterest (which is normally a good thing)
  • The historical society lost their domain and it was purchased by someone who was peddling exercise equipment
Why you watermark your images

Here is the Pinterest pin for the image. The person who pinned it would have no way of knowing that the image was unauthorized.  They pinned it at a time when the historical society site actually belonged to the historical society.

Unauthorized image as found on Pinterest
Unauthorized image as found on Pinterest

Why is image theft a problem?

There are a number of reasons this is a problem.

Dilution of Search Engine results for your site.

Google and other search engines try their best to eliminate duplication. When presented with similar content, they will attempt to determine which is the real or canonical original. There is a possibility that Google could determine that the image that was used without permission is the ‘real’ image. That would drive traffic to the site that purloined your image and steal traffic from your site.

Not watermarking your images is risky on a number of levels

The thread of copyright lawsuits.

There is a whole industry of bottom feeding parasitic useless scum sucking parasites who call themselves ‘copyright attorneys’. Other people refer to them as copyright trolls.  Companies purchase sites with images and then search for sites using those images. They then get their attorneys to demand absurd payments for the use of the image.

You could be sued for using your own image. The problem that could arise would be if someone used your image without authorization and some copyright trolls purchased the site. They could find your image and then send a demand for payment that could be tens of thousands of dollars. If you try to fight that, it would be in Federal court which means at least five to ten thousand for a retainer for a copyright lawyer.  “No problem, it was my pic” you might say. The problem is, you would have to prove it. If it was a photo you took several years ago you might not have the original. Photos taken with older cameras would not have GPS data. Proving that you published the picture first could be difficult. You can’t just say “Look at this timestamp”. You have to go through the $400/hour legal “Get the lawyers rich” dance of legalese.

To mitigate the risk of copyright lawsuits. 

  • Watermark all of your images. I was putting the watermarks directly on the images using a watermark plugin for GIMP.  However, I have switched to a watermark plugin for WordPress. I currently have that set to not watermark the original full sized images. The problem is that leaves some of my images unprotected. I am currently considering changing that setting.
  • Organize and keep ALL of your original images. Keep a copy of those images in some type of offline or cloud storage. Being able to produce the original would be almost as satisfying as throwing a bucket of manure in the face of a money grubbing parasitic copyright troll lawyer… almost..

Always archive your original, unmodified images in a safe place. Preferably in safe cloud storage.

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