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A good read indeed
John De Bord's profile photoGeoff Yale's profile photoBrian Michaud's profile photoHarry Kikstra's profile photo
Both photogs have good points and the rebuttals are often times only relevant for specific business models. Personally I dance somewhere in between. Ultimately, everyone needs to have a full understanding of their own business model before the choose which side. Sadly, I would say 90% of photographers out there don't know what a business model is :)
Agreed, +Colby Brown and that can be difficult to figure, because it's such a permeable set of boundaries for a business like photography. There are so many ways of going about it, that most of us end up in no man's land, between the various models rather than firmly planted in any one configuration.

I think for anyone selling images as rights managed, watermarks are simply a given. For folks like +Trey Ratcliff etc, who appear to make the bulk of the income not thru image sales but through software, etc, it's less of an issue. I can't think of a single reason, however, that suggests watermarking actually really hinders anything.
+Carl Donohue +QT Luong +Colby Brown We make the bulk of our revenue through image licensing... we license thousands of photos all over the world. Now, this is just my opinion, but I think my photos would only be shared half-as-much if they had watermarks. Of course, I can never know this for sure because I have not done an A/B test, which would be difficult to be truly scientific about.
+Trey Ratcliff - I completely understand your model and do exercise most of your tactics myself, although I do currently have a very transparent mini text copy right on a single edge of my photos when outside my website, I imagine most people never see it.

90% of the time I am much more in line with the value of exposure there then keeping things close to the chest so to speak. Ultimately everyone has to dance their own line, but as I said above, there is no right answer and one most follow their business model that works for them.
+Trey Ratcliff I am aware of your business model, but I think it's not impossible that people may license them twice as much if they had watermarks.
+QT Luong Your assumption is the same as mine then - just a guess at what-could-be.

But, to be just plain logical about it - there is something about your fundamental mistrust of human nature in your policy.

By saying that a watermark equals double-licensing revenue, this indicates that NO watermark equals twice as many people will steal images.

Now, since the only people that would pay you (or me) money anyway are legitimate companies, then let's look at them for a moment.

In my experience, legitimate companies are MORE likely to license an image they found than STEAL it. If it is easier for them to find an image they are looking for because it is more widely shared, then it increases the overall catchment for possible purchasers. So this is why I base my strategy on the opportunity of what-can-be combined with the natural-leaning-good of legitimate operations. And yes, there are illegitimate operations out there, but I develop my strategy for the bulk of the bull-curve rather than the edge-case.
Hey +Trey Ratcliff - thanks for the clarification. That's great you're doing so well with image licensing. Your images certainly have a stamp all your own that lends themselves to licensing.

It's certainly impossible to A/B this kind of thing. Here's the flip side of the coin. truth about google drilling for oil in anwr .. and I guarantee you'l come across a post somewhere on page 1 that has at last one of my photos on it, and a bunch of lies about the drilling debate.

here's one.

I've never granted license to use my images like this. It's not used commercially, in the traditional sense, but what's more commercial than advocating drilling for oil in a wildlife refuge? Through watermarking, i'm able to at least partially track down and stem the tide of this.

This situation isn't an exception, in my experience.


+Trey Ratcliff If it's shared without your name on it, how many sales do you miss simply because someone saw the image but didn't know who the photographer is? btw, +Trey Ratcliff .. shouldn't you have added me to your circles by now? :)
circled you... but you know you don't have to watermark an image to track it down. My stuff is occasionally used commercially and we track it down with Google Image search and/or Tineye.
+Trey Ratcliff Yes, speculation. It could well be that you're right, but there's not way to know. No, I do not assume dishonesty, but rather that most folks are uninformed about copyright laws. See this passage in updated blog post: "Yes, but people who don't know that an image should be licensed wouldn't contact you. They'd just use the image. Sure, professional image buyers know better, but it's been argued (for instance by Dan Heller) that they don't make up the majority of the market anymore..."

+Carl Donohue The ANWR use would be a pitfall of Creative Commons Non Commercial. I am curious, how watermarking help you track down those images.
Well I kind of see your perspective +QT Luong - but I just don't buy it. I don't think that most people think that any image is free for the taking for commercial use.
Thanks +Trey Ratcliff - And certainly it's possible to make the case, in my situation, that images used to promote things that I object to would be better off without my name attached to them. I get emails and notes from people about once a week asking about this anwr thing, and why I've lent my image/s to support something I say I'm against. But I think I'd rather have my name on the images, and then ask the photos be taken down.

Google Image search and Tineye work well in some cases, obviously, but not in many cases. If the image file name is changed, which it often is with public sharing networks, it's harder to find your work. Also, if the sharing is on something like facebook, or even on G+ with some cases, those avenues don't work. I liken it to simply putting my name on my gear when I was in school; it just seems to make sense for me. That and my mom tells me to. :)

Thanks again
+QT Luong As I mentioned above; I get emails regularly from people who know me, and they see the blog posts or emails going around with my images in them, (the same post has an image by +Rolf Hicker as well, more often than not, and I don't believe his image is even FROM anwr) - simply having my name on my work has tracked down a lot of this stuff, with a lot less effort on my part.

And it has definitely led to people licensing images that I doubt they'd have contacted me if my name wasn't on the image.

I agree with you that many people don't understand image licensing and think that what's on the internet, esp if it does NOT have a copyright attached, is free for all.
+Carl Donohue, thank you for bringing up this issue! I am not a professional photographer, but I am a businessman.

What I have been struggling with, as it relates to this issue, is that the "NO-Watermarkers" seem to be the ones that are making a big darn deal out of this issue. I don't see these two sides of this matter as mutually exclusive. Both have merit.

I have followed +Trey Ratcliff and +QT Luong for as long as I can remember. Both are brilliant, IMHO. But I wonder if Trey is humble enough to overlook the sway his posts have with a million+ followers? To suggest one's business model is the right to such a large audience, is a great thing, and to do so with passion is even better! But, I felt like there was more than a little negativism in Trey's last post.

I confess I made several changes to this comment before hitting enter with the hope of practicing what I preach, as it relates to keeping negativism out of the G+ arena while still having a passionate debate.
I could hire 15 lawyers around the clock 24/7 to chase all infringements I find with my pictures, especially online. For me it is suicide NOT to have some kind of a watermark in the picture - +Trey Ratcliff may has a point but I don't buy that one at all. If somebody is a full time professional REALLY living to a very large % of income from licensing, then it does not make any sense to me NOT to include the watermark. I honestly believe very strongly that our business model, +Carl Donohue +QT Luong and mine are very different then +Trey Ratcliff. Just my 2 cents to it.
It is great that we can find all our images with google, tiny or whatever - who can afford to spend all day, everyday to follow up with every case?? I can't but with the watermark I have at least some advertisement through that stolen picture.

I'm making a living now for 25 years from my photography and I don't want to know where I would be today without watermarks.

+Carl Donohue would you mind to send me one of those emails?? Would be very much appreciated - thanks!
Hey +Rolf Hicker - sure, I'll send one along .. it's a chain email that goes all over, and is often posted on blogs, etc. It was on the Heritage Foundation for a while as well.
Thanks for the good discussion.

Something everyone overlooks +Jerry Johnson -- is that this has been my policy even when the only person that followed me was my mom. I haven't always be "famous" or whatever... it's a good policy to be open and sharing with your work... that is an independent vector from how many followers you have.

ANd +Rolf Hicker - I don't have lawyers on staff or anything. If you have a good case, like when we went after Time magazine, the lawyers take it on contingency so there is no out-of-pocket for me. And I don't follow up with EVERY case -- that assumes a perfect world with 100% recovery. It is an imperfect world, so instead you just go after the biggest companies who probably exposed your images to the biggest audience. 1 Time Magazine is with 100 bottom-feeders.

Anyway, Rolf and others... watch what happens when Scott Bourne switches over to my way of thinking... being open and sharing is the path to a better future for everyone.
+Trey Ratcliff Sorry Trey..."my way of thinking", "my policy"??? I think thats a bit bold, there are many others showing their images without watermarks for a long, long time! Being open and sharing is what everybody wants to hear. I like to share to, I like to be open too but it simply not always fits.
I worked for many Non-Profit Organizations - they ALL tell people they work for free BUT many get a big big salary paid but of course nobody ever talks about the waist within the non for profit. So to me this here is kinda the same here.

Sharing and being open is great for those which can afford it. I wish I could give my images away for free but I can't afford it because my 100% comes from my images. Again, this is my personal opinion. Great if that works for you, it definitely will get you more circlers on G+. Good luck!
+Carl Donohue thanks, appreciate it.
+Trey Ratcliff, thanks for your response! I believe you are one of the most transparent and consistent people on G+. My point is not that you have changed from a time when your mom alone followed you until you hit the million mark. My point is that you now have influence, whether you desire it or not, along with the responsibility that goes with it. To deny this influence would be illogical IMHO.

Let me leave you on this happy note. Your iPad video of the Chinese taxi driver and your interactions en route from the airport to the hotel, is one of my favorites of all time! I was glad I worked from home upon viewing it, because my 48 year old bladder and the intense laughter... ah, never mind.
+Rolf Hicker I'm confused that you think away I give away all my images for free. I don't. I license my images to commercial companies... thousands and thousands. I DO give away my images for free for personal, creative commons type uses. And I'm not sure what you are saying about non-profits. We charge full price for licensing our images to non-profits, even though they always ask for them for free. I think that's lousy of them to do that, especially, like you said, since they all do have big budgets for other overhead type stuff.

+Jerry Johnson hehe thx glad you liked that one.
+Trey Ratcliff +Jerry Johnson +Rolf Hicker +Carl Donohue
Talking about Watermarks is like talking about religion. It usually never gets anyone anywhere. Personally I think the most important aspect of all of this is understanding your own business. As I said above, most people do not. I have seen people from both camps, for and against, have no clue to what they are talking about because they don't fully understand what drives their income or maybe they do not make any income from photography to begin with. Taking a business class and more accurately a small business class is one of the best things a photographer can do if they hope to ever have a sustainable business model.

Having said all this, I also constantly see a fight for any change to the status que for anything photography related. It happened with digital. It happened with micro stock and it happens today with watermarks. Finding the right path to sustainable financial growth as a photographer is key, but understanding that the industry and market changes is vital. I am not saying this in support of one side or another, but the reality is that things change. SEO is not what it was 10 years go, neither are social networks...heck neither are our customers. The ability to adapt and change is the key to survival to any business. Just because it has worked in the past 5 years is certainly NO guarantee it will work in the next.
+Trey Ratcliff "...thousands and thousands..." wow - thats great for you. Sounds like you do better then the agencies all together - I'm very happy for you. Well then this is probably the answer can afford it...I'm just one of those "normal photographers" which are not selling thousands and thousands of images but I'm still proud to be a pro which made it over 25 years on only image sales. Not getting rich for sure but that was never my intention anyway.
Well said +Colby Brown. I'd include you in the "consistent and transparent from the beginning" category, here on G+.

Ps. Your most recent shared circle meant a lot to several photographers that mean a lot to me here on G+. :-)
+Trey Ratcliff You are saying that it's always been your policy. However, the same policy can be adopted with different motivations. One can be an amateur with no intentions to make money and therefore no concerns about copyright infringement. Or one can be successful professional with a team to track infringements and demand payment, and therefore no concerns about copyright infringement. I suppose you're exceptional in that you've been in both situations, but none other. The folks for whom I wrote the article, which would represent the immense majority of those who try to make a buck, are in neither situation.

+Colby Brown Couldn't agree more. From the blog entry: "For me, watermarks are not a philosophical matter. They are simply a good business practice. "
But +QT Luong you can't be surprised when you write an article that praises the establishment and then the most positive comments are form people that are part of the establishment. It's like saying, "Well, the choir completely agreed with my sermon!"

And, if you guys want to keep watermarking things -- it's fine and everything. I think you have tied together watermarking=making-a-buck -- and I don't think that is a given. I don't think I'm the exception to the rule, either. We'll have a coffee again in 3 years and see where the market is at.
the established-way-of-doing-things -- the traditional, the conventional
+QT Luong - I am pretty sure Trey is talking about the idea that you "must" watermark to make a buck. Part of the status quo or industry standard so to speak for "professional" photographers over the last 10+ years. Btw, I am going to refrain from using "professional" in terms of describing someone as a photographer. From now on it is "full time" as everyone seems to be a "professional" these days :)
+Trey Ratcliff Watermarks aren't a matter of "establishment". It's a business practice like putting all your images online without a watermark. It's a preference. Watermarks provide 2 major benefits whether you like them or not.
1. It informs people who is behind the photo. Particularly people that are too lazy to look any other way. In this way it also provides a consistent and fast path for people to track you down for licensing, prints or just to say "cool!"
2. It allows you to more effectively enforce copyright infringement. Whether you chose to or not is up to you, but at least you can with greater success and heavier penalties toward the infringer.

Your write up and +QT Luong are great... two sides of the coin. If it works for you fantastic.
... A simple thank you to all of your comments on this post. :D You would be surprised with all that learned and took away from it. Active discussion of two sides of any debate is well spent time. I won't judge any winners from this debate, instead appreciate the openness you all shared. Thank you again!
I went ahead linked to your post here Carl, a lot of great valuable info for people in the conversation here.
I have a lens pen and Microsoft photo editor. I'm ready to be "full time"
After reading this gentlemen, I feel like I watched a 15 round heavyweight boxing match. It was a good clean fight that I judge as a draw :)
For a while I had some images as CC as well. But what +QT Luong nor +Trey Ratcliff mention is that any CC license is by definition incompatible by licensing RM, as you can never be sure where the image has been used before. It does not matter that it is personal or not, no big company will want to use a popular image that might have been shared dozens of times on blogs that oppose their products etc.

I have some images at Getty (I know, I know), and they and others never accept images that have been CC-d, or at least not in their Rights Managed catalogues for this exact reason. So if you are licensing through any RM agency, you are shooting yourself in the foot as you either won't be able to license an image or you are liable when a buyer discovers that his expensive image is also shared for free (again, it does not matter if it is commercial or not).

And I agree with all of you about the shady borders between NGO's non-profits & non-commercial use. Most blogs that are full of ads call themselves non-commercial. Same for churches that are particularly triggerhappy in breaking their own commandments by stealing my images, which are now copyrighted, all rights reserved, with a special note that in no case (even when licensed) they can be used to promote a single religion or any religion at all.

Sometimes they ask. Like the 'non-commercial' 'human rights' group that wanted to use my image of a girl in Papua for their site. When asked and checked, it appeared that they were christian evangelists/missionaries and the image was going to be used as an example of 'those poor people that need to be converted', disrespecting not only me as a photographer, but the subject and her friends and family as well. Under a CC license the image would have been abused legally.