I would like to response to Trey's post and I believe I am a qualified person to answer this post because I have been through a copyright lawsuit with a "big" and famous company and also my ex-colleague/partner sits on the committee of the biggest copyright organization in Japan, he also has dealing with other copyright organizations overseas, including the US.
1) "Watermarks look ugly. Whenever I look at a photo with a watermark, often times, ALL I can think about is that watermark! It's so distracting. Maybe this is just me "
As to whether a watermark looks ugly or not, it is purely a matter of personal taste, to Trey, it maybe ugly, to me, it maybe beautiful. I would respect the artist's personal taste on this matter.
2)" Legitimate companies do not steal images to use commercially. So I don’t have any logical fear there."
This is NOT true. And I can name you many examples and it is not related to images only, these also include movies, broadcast, music..etc. I would started with my own case, I have spent 4 years in court regarding copyright issues involving a "famous company", the lawsuit I mentioned here was also in the newspaper so I could assure you it involved something "big and famous". And other examples, I could name briefly would be such as a major TV station( one of the biggest broadcasting companies) using a radio station broadcast and other copyrighted materials without permission, and many other cases like this.
Here is a link to an article that NHK, the biggest broadcast company in Japan, using someone's image without permission:http://www.47news.jp/CN/201011/CN2010111001000890.html
3) "There are other services, like Tineye (and Google) that can help my team easily find bottom-feeders."
In movie and music industries, there are finger print technology that helps company to search for infringed materials in the internet. These companies pay a lot for such service and they are NOT 100% accurate.
Also, In movie, software, game, music industries, they also hire vendors to help in searching for and removal of infringed materials in the internet. Each title could easily cost up to 8000 USD. Thus, I do not think it is as easy as you mentioned or else all these companies could save millions of dollars.
4) "We do register our images with the copyright office, so if someone uses an image commercially without a proper license, it is an easy lawsuit."
As far as I understand, it cost money ( Many companies need to hire a lawyer in this area) to register and you know what, Trey, the registration MIGHT not work all over the world. For some countries you might need separated registration.
And an easy lawsuit?? IT IS NEVER AN EASY LAWSUIT!!! I was involved in a copyright lawsuit and it dragged out for 4 years!! In Hong Kong, any copyright related issues need to go to High Court, we must hire a council for high court, but also we need a solicitor, the cost for me was 1500 USD/hour, oh, this was with a discount already !! In US, such cases are also very expansive, that is why many companies hesitate going to lawsuit. By the way, you can ONLY protect your copyrighted materials in one country, and you need different lawyers and different lawsuits for countries overseas. And you need to provide materials the oversea court would accept.
5)" I don’t have to maintain two versions of each image – one with a watermark and one without."
it is entirely your freedom to do as you wish and others to do as they desired.
6)" NOT using watermarks and using creative commons helps more and more people to use your image freely for fun, which increases traffic and builds something I call “internet-trust."
If you think there is something called "internet trust", you do not know how much companies are spending to protect their copyrighted materials and how much they are losing!! They would not spend more money than they lose to protect their materials.
7) "As image search and image recognition get better and better, there will be no need to watermark things. In 1 year+, we'll be able to r-click an image and choose "Google-find the original creator" -- there is a bit trail to first-on-the-internet."
Please see no 3 above. If it is as easy as you mentioned , these companies would not need to pay so much money.
8) Yes, last, there will be bottom-feeders that steal your stuff. I call this the cost of doing business on the internet. These are the Tic-Tacs that are stolen from the 7-11. It is impossible to maintain 100% of your digital inventory, so wanting "perfection" in your online strategy is an illusion.
You seem to be saying that to protect copyright is an illusion and unrealistic, yet do you know how much the movie, music software, games, and I would also add images industries are losing because of copyright infringement on the internet?
I would give you an example in the movie industry:http://www.jimca.co.jp/english/index.html#111031
It is NOT an illusion, it is a MUST for companies to protect their materials on the internet, and we as photographers, are no difference.
In conclusion, I must say that while I totally respect your opinion and your attitude toward your work, I feel that we must be careful while presenting our views in public, especially while some may not be factual. And I think some copyright organizations might be a bit upset to read what you wrote.
My friend in the copyright field asked me to add this, he said, if someone analyze for you how much you are actually losing from internet, you may change your mind...
Thanks for your time.