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Why I Don't Use Watermarks

I get this question a lot, and I know it came up in the live hangout last night. I know my opinion is different than many other photographers, and that is okay.

As you may know, my work is all Creative Commons Non-Commercial. That means people, as long as they give credit and link back to , can use my images on their blogs, wallpaper, personal use – anything – as long as it is not used commercially. Every day, I upload a HUGE 6000+ pixel max-resolution image to the Internet. I do not have any fear at all… Believe me, it’s quite liberating living in a world without internet-stealth-fear.

People that want to license our images regularly contact our licensing team – we get many of these every day of the week.

So why don’t I use watermarks? It’s a multi-part philosophy –

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.

2) Legitimate companies do not steal images to use commercially. So I don’t have any logical fear there. *In case of emergency, break glass and see #4

3) There are other services, like Tineye (and Google) that can help my team easily find bottom-feeders.

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.

5) I don’t have to maintain two versions of each image – one with a watermark and one without.

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."

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.

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.

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Steven G
The feeling when you see your own creation having the watermark or signature rubbed out is also indescribably horrible.
Great post, Trey. I usually put my name really small somewhere in the middle of the image, and try to place it creatively so it blends in. But your way is really the best way to go. :)
Great post, and very good point. I hope more artists take your approach.
Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us +Trey Ratcliff . Your hangouts are very cool, as well as educational!
If anyone decides to use a Trey Ratcliff photo on the Internet, it will be spotted and called out within minutes. Your style is very recognizable, and your followers abundant. A lot of us don't have that luxury.
I use a small, hopefully non-distracting logo on my photos in case someone stumbles upon it on the web and wants to see more. I do, however, agree with all your points, and one day, I hope to achieve the recognition to where I no longer have to do that.
I've seen all to often people ruin an image to put their watermark on. An image goes from a great piece of art to an advertisement for them.
Totally agree with these reasons, especially #8, #6 and absolutely #1. It's sad that a work has to be diminished to discourage the thieves out there, especially since those it hurts most are the viewers!
Thank you for sharing your perspectives on this +Trey Ratcliff, I currently use watermarks and have been debating for some time now about ditching them. I appreciate how you give such practical advise.
And I'm sure that people willing to use your photos will be more than happy with you allowing them to do it, so they'll come back to your web looking for more material when they need it, and maybe recommend you to other people.
I think this leads to a better image and wider audience than watermarks.
Watermarks spoil the pictures. So it's a double edged swords. The pictures are not stolen, but they are not as good !
Btw, Hdr is a catastrophe when used by photographers not as gifted as you.
Interesting point/perspective, Trey - I know this is something all photographers have thoughts on (and some very differing opinions)...thanks for a fresh perspective!
Love the motion in this. Great hangout last night - lots of good discussion. Especially interesting is the watermark and Internet stealing topic circulating recently. Thanks for clearly reiterating your stance on this. 
I agree with you 10000% +Trey Ratcliff - I never watermark, and I have had lost of photos stolen (believe it or not people with lower profiles than yours get more theft!) But I simply think that watermarks are a defacing of my artwork.. Call me crazy :)

Have a look at THIS for a well stolen image ( th original is mone from Flickr - believe it or not!,r:0,s:0&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.,cf.osb&fp=ab395b7ffbfc8318&biw=1280&bih=737
(edit) sorry about the HUGE link! but it works )
I watermark my images for a totally different reason. I try to keep it in the corner and as unobtrusive as possible, and I use my name and my website address. I use my watermarks for advertising my website. Besides, if someone wants an image bad enough without having to pay for it, they'll just crop out the watermark anyway.
Well said as always. On the other hand, I sent an email to your licensing team and never got a response, so I didn't license it. The girl who wanted me to paint her into your Paris shot was a bit disappointed, but I wasn't about to use your work without permission or licensing!
I love reason #6 which is why I like to share all my stuff.
Thanks all...

And yes, you can probably detect that I still have respect for people that use watermarks... I'm just giving you the reasons that I don't :) Like even +RC Concepcion uses a little watermark down in the corner... his is pretty classy looking... but still not enough to sway me! :)
indeed - "Watermarks look ugly"
never add my name as watermark to my works !
Fantastic philosophy Trey. I appreciate your vision of "internet-trust" and think it's the best way into the future. Especially with services like Google+. I'm not going to view a photo album full of watermarked photos. Makes me feel untrusted.
Amen. Your comments on watermarking could be applied to many other fields - from academia to industry - and innumerable different types of media - from scholarly research to inventions and beyond.
Good to hear sensible views from a top photographer such as you, thanks!
This philosophy makes a lot of sense, I agree 100%. Where have your photos been used commercially, do you get samples of their use?
+Greg Norcie If someone knows steganography is being used, it is easily defeated. All you have to do is change one bit in the image and whatever it was carrying is destroyed. As long as one doesn't know Stego is being used, it works well so I guess you could do it and not let anyone know that is how you watermark. However, again as soon as someone resizes, or adjusts color or anything like that your stego is dead.

+Matt Beacher Yes I don't know the opinion of +Jeff Jarvis on this particular topic, but I bet it is the same as mine.

+Nick Haddad Yes we do - since we negotiate these licenses, we often see exactly how they are used commercially.... and we get sent a lot of stuff... I have a roomfull of stuff... I don't know what the heck to do with it!
+Todd Green that is strange -- I don't know why my licensing team would have turned down something so innocuous as that -- please re-forward me that email and I can take another look. Usually, if there are other artists that want to re-purpose my work for fun, we're all for it!
Hey +Trey Ratcliff I am curious, I simply put my name and year in the bottom right corner. As I would if it was a painting or the like. I generally take a color from the image to use so its not jumping out or competing with the image. What are your thoughts on signing your work..? I have to admit your post does make a ton of sense and I do agree that from a technology perspective this will become less of an issue. Your NYC image is fantastic.
Of course I agree with your thinking here 100%. I find watermarks and signatures personally offensive as a viewer. It's like someone is assuming you are a thief -- even someone you may have a good relationship with. That's bad for sharing. As a consumer of photography on the web, I have a hard time following people who watermark their work. They are ugly and distracting and as an artist one of the things that I strive for personally is to make the world a more beautiful place. I took some heat the other day when I'd removed some of the people I follow on G+ because of their ugly watermarking. I didn't feel that was right. I should be able to follow whomever I want.

Have you ever walked into a fine art museum and seen watermarks on the photos there? William Eggleston, one of the most successful and talented fine art photographers in the world today does not watermark the images on his website. We should all strive for that level of work even if we are not yet there today.
+Trey Ratcliff It would be cool to see some of your work being used commercially, would you consider posting a few examples?
Would that many other folk thought like this Trey. I get pretty sick of hearing the paranoia on so many photography sites. And as far as watermarks go, I have seen some stupendous images completely ruined by watermarks splattered across the centre. It puts me off looking at the other images in a portfolio.
+James Harris - That's the same reason I do it. If I was as well known as +Trey Ratcliff I'd probably feel the same as he about using them, but as it stands - no one knows who I am or where to look for me, so I use my website as the watermark down in the corner.
Phenomenal. Complexly layered eye candy. A well-known location has been given a fresh and exciting new look.
I don't watermark all of my images but do occasionally, and I've never found a watermark on an image offensive unless it's huge or blocks a major part of the image. When I do watermark, it's for the same reasons +James Harris mentioned. It's interesting to me that most people seem to assume it's to prevent theft. In my case, my motivation was always advertising. Not all of us are well known. :-)
"We do register our images with the copyright office" I'm not sure everyone is able to do this for every photo they put online? G+ would be empty if every photo needed to be registered first. Correct me if I'm wrong. +Thomas Hawk do you also register your images first?
+Trey Ratcliff, both you and +Thomas Hawk have given me (and probably many many others) some info to digest and think about when it comes to watermarking. I have noticed for myself, that my own has gotten smaller and smaller over the last few months of being on G+. The only thing I want to ask both of you is this: What about the argument of "someone saw this photo of mine and couldn't find me to buy a print, so I am using my watermark as free advertising"? Do either of you mind discussing your thoughts on that?
+David Bowden that is fine -- that is what +RC Concepcion does too. I don't do it - except on a select group of Artist-Proof prints, but each one of them is individually signed in photoshop -- and we sell those for $2000+ depending on the size.

As for on-the-internet, I would not mind as long as I did not even notice the sig. But, this is me... and, I am quite logically inconsistent about it because I quite like seeing "Monet" signed in the lower right of his paintings!
Very good post and something we all (photographers) think about. I use a subtle watermark, even though i dislike them. I had problems with my photos being used on other websites. But as soon as i started watermarking, it stopped.

Id love to be able to display my work without photos. What what +Trey Ratcliff is saying makes total sense. My only concern about posting full, high-res, un-watermarked photos is what if part of your business is selling prints? People can download these high res images and just print all they want. I know you said those who take like that are the "bottom feeders". But believe me, give the average person the choice between paying for a print and downloading to print their own for free.... they'll choose free 95% of the time. In fact I was told by someone just last week that her husband "Loved one of my photos but when he went to download it, was disappointed my watermark was on it because it would ruin it for printing"!!! That's how the average Joe see's photos online. Its there... why can't i just download and print it?

My main worry isn't commercial use. Trey is right... legit companies pay for the photos they use. But what about the money we could be making off people making prints for personal use?
Thanks for explaining your philosophy +Trey Ratcliff and I often wonder why amateur photographers go to extra lengths to scar their pics with watermarks that distract. So, if people did not register their photos with the copyright office like you did, will the water mark achieve the same purpose (other than forcing thieves to crop out the watermark) ?
This has been EXACTLY my philosophy for a long time. The pros of no watermarks, or small subtle ones, and posting big images, far outweigh the cons.
Thanks for this Trey, I've always enjoyed the full-res versions of your images. They help me become a better photographer and understand the process better. They also make fantastic desktop backgrounds that have people asking me about you!
Thanks for sharing +Trey Ratcliff. You seem to be on every social media outlet on the planet along with frequent blog posts and daily photos, how do you manage all of this?
There's another awesome one from Trey. Nice read and absolutely agree.
Awe, what the heck +Trey Ratcliff. In honor of yours and +Thomas Hawk's argument against watermarks, I'll stop using them. The image I'm about to upload to G+ will be watermark free.

It's not just because of you guys (although I think I was one of the ones removed from T-Hawk's list for it.) The truth is that I've been looking for an excuse to stop anyway. I don't really care when I see them on my images and it doesn't ruin the viewing experience for me. I couldn't care less whether work is signed or watermarked. To be honest, most of all I hate having two versions to keep track of. It's making my hard drive(s) messy. And with all the travel, It's one more thing to keep track of.

So it looks like it's laziness FTW.
+Trey Ratcliff would you care to elaborate on how you and your team go about registering images for those of us who have no clue? Perhaps in another post? Seems it could be costly.... I'd like to understand it better. (My husband is a painter and knows some about registering paintings- are photographic images in the same category?)

I have been conflicted about watermarking ( almost invisible is my pref.) and vacillate- as seen by my pics- and it's all your fault. ;) I agree with all your points, I suppose I need to figure out the registering part and figure out how one decides which (or all?) to register.
Food for thought for those who think that signatures are offensive: The great painters of the past usually signed their pictures. Do you hate Picasso or Van Gogh for having put their names in their pictures? Do you feel offended by their paintings? Does the signature make their paintings any less impressive? I don't think so. (Of course, if you give away your images with Creative License, then a fat watermark right in the middle of the picture would stink, but what's wrong with signing your pieces of art?) If you consider your photos pieces of art, don't feel afraid to behave like an artist.
I love that New York picture!! Im going to print it and put it on my Vision Board. Someday I'll leave in NYC. Thank you for Sharing it
I thought your watermark was


Boo1 Hiss! bad joke!
I totally agree with your points, especially with #1: whenever I happen to look at a watermarked image, 9 times out of 10 I would be dismissing it as "ugly" without even giving it a second chance.
By the way, ugly invasive frames fall in the same category, to me, but that's a different matter... :D
Have to say, I found it far more offensive finding that someone else has slapped THEIR logo all over one of my images & feel pretty powerless to do anything about it :-( The US seems to have great SUPPORT (as opposed to protection) of copyright in their registration system (i.e. instant turnaround if a copyright registered image has been infringed. Unfortunately the UK doesn't seemt to have anything remotely similar so I could register everything but would still need to find someone willing to support me in a claim etc....

(I haven't watermarked any of my images but have been considering it recently).
"Google-find the original creator"

A feature I am look forward to. I bet Google + profiles will centre stage here.
+Trey Ratcliff you have no idea how much that speaks out of my heart. I totally can't stand watermarks. I usually click them away, even if they are great pictures. I just can't ignore watermarks. And yes... its the cost of posting digital data on the internet.
Times Square is such a wonderful and challenging place to shoot. Great shot.
+Elia Locardi - I think swapping them will also lead to losing any previous comments... I like the swapping idea myself, however I appreciate the comments and don't want to lose them- or annoy people with re-posting. Do you know a way that will not lose comments?
This comes up a lot with our org ( because the photos we use in exhibition are limited edition, and we don't want low quality prints floating around out there.

Thank you for addressing our concerns so logically. Because ultimately, I do want to publish online as well as other places.
Mohan M
I support +Tamara Pruessner her reasons are actually correct also is +Simone Linke .
Using watermark or not is left to individual. And if you dont like it thats left to you. Like I appreciate what +Trey Ratcliff has to say (its his opinion). Also +Thomas Hawk doesnt like it again its his liking. He has removed some people from his circle, is his choice.
But +Thomas Hawk giving example that watermarked works are bad is absolutely wrong !!
Pablo Picasso used to sign his work, it doesnt make is worse... Leonardo da vinci used to sign his work too ...
So please dont give examples +Thomas Hawk .... Its your choice it doesnt have to good for all.. Some people like it and other dont ...
+Trey Ratcliff So you register the copyright and you use Creative Commons? I thought the idea of Creative Commons was instead of copyright.

A friend of mine who's amateur and really just shoots photos of friends and random cute people watermarks his images so that when people share them on Facebook, they know who he is the next time they see him in the bar. I think it looks tacky, but it works in helping him photograph more people.
+Nono den Tex I do not register my images at all. I'm not as concerned with going after infringement. Like Trey said, most large companies will not infringe. I've licensed thousands of images on the web over the years. Minor infringement does not bother me in the least (Trey's tic tac analogy is a good one). But you know, even if someone large did infringe one of my images, I'd rather work something out easily than consider anything legally heavy handed. I just don't like the bad juju and bad feelings that come with legal entanglements

I have too many photos to take, too many photos to process, too much art to make to be worried about going after infringers generally speaking.

Also for Trey photography is a business, so registering makes more sense. While I generate income from my photography, it is not my primary source of income or business -- and so with a day job I care even less about the economic impact of any possible infringement. I'm more looking for maximum visibility and distribution more than anything. As an artist I want as many people to see my work as is possible.
On the flip side, there have been images that I have come across on the internet that, had they not had the watermark, I would not have been able to find the photographer. Tineye still has a long way to go on finding all the images on the internet. And not all of us have a "team" to find violators and slap them with a lawsuit. If someone doesn't want to look at my images because they have a watermark, then they don't have to look. But I rarely get complaints about them.
+Mohan M - LMAO!! Could I have that in writing or recording so my hubby knows that I am usually correct? :D
i watermark in the right or left hand corner most of the time can be easily removed i know but not having a website some might wonder who took photo :-) but most would not care :-( lol
A very compelling argument. I just might stop using them on mine too and go CC. Thanks!
+Simone Linke +Mohan M We should not be comparing photographs to paintings. We should be comparing photographs to photographs if you want to make a fine art analogy.

How many of the Masters of Photography put watermarks on their prints? A photograph is not a painting anymore than a photograph is a sculpture. If you want to look at what fine artists do, you should be looking at fine art photographers, not fine art painters. Does William Eggleston watermark / sign his work on the face of his photographs? No. Does Robert Frank? No. Did Richard Avedon? Did Ansel Adams? Did Henri Cartier-Bresson? Did Diane Arbus? Of course not. Where signatures are used with fine art photography it is typically done on the back of the photograph, or possibly on a mat, or somewhere off of the image. Even in the rare cases where it's on the photograph, it's done by hand giving each signature a unique and interesting quality (closer to a painter signing work) rather than a mass produced watermark.

Go look at the photos sold at the Ansel Adams Gallery, now run by Ansel's son Michael. Do you see watermarks all over everything or signatures marring up the face of the prints?

Online photographs should be compared with online and offline fine art photography as a medium, not with paintings.
I totally agree with you on this one, but I have to say that one part sadly isn't true. Legitimate companies DO steal images to use commercially. Not a lot of them do, but in the recent years we have seen many cases. The BBC report on the London riot ( ) or the case between Rihanna and David Lachapelle are but two examples that made the headlines in the last 6 months... Not that it would make me put watermarks on my pictures, but you just shouldn't assume that they don't do it.
I have been struggling with this for awhile. I personally don't make any money with my photos, but I certainly don't want anyone else to either. I am currently just a hobbyist. I don't like to ugly up my picture either, but if my photo gets used or passed around, I want to get my name into peoples' heads. So, I am currently watermarking most of my images, but hover over the "Apply" button almost every time I watermark. :)
awesome points, all of them, man. all of my images are cc'ed, but i've released them both with and without watermarks. i'll keep these points in mind in my upcoming work.
I agree with those who use tasteful signatures on their images. A non-obstructive signature or URL in the corner of a photo is as valuable as an artist's signature on a painting. Even if it's available for public use, it allows for the photographer to maintain association with their work -- wherever it goes! I do agree that a blatant "DON'T STEAL ME" watermark is distracting and counter-intuitive (Because it could also read "DON'T LOOK AT ME!")
All I can say is, thank God I'm not the only one who hates watermarks, they are ugly, as some photographers have no idea how to design a discreet watermark. Besides these days you can digitally watermark the files too.

+Thorpe Griner I'm not worried about prints -- we sell limited edition prints and whatnot. I know our quality is great... if people want to download and print themselves -- I'm not gonna throw a fit. Really, they can buy one from me and get great quality and not have to go through all the trouble themselves. But, if people wanna do personal prints... it's not the end of the world. At least they are enjoying the art, and maybe some day they will find a way to give back.
+Pamela Reynoso It is very easy to register your images with the copyright office. It's only like $35 and you can do it over the internet. I can't give you the exact steps because one of our team members does it.
I don't quite get it: QUOTE "That means people, as long as they give credit and link back to , can use my images on their blogs, wallpaper, personal use – anything – as long as it is not used commercially." and yet last night you stated quite forthrightly that you charged Non profits, (when my question was actually about grass roots NGOS) full commercial rate to use your images? My question, which was fairly quickly brushed aside was aimed at such grass roots NGOs using your and other photographers images for websites etc, to affect social change.

So if a grass roots NGO want's to use one of your images to highlight the work they do, and not use it to aggregate funds that is okay? Sorry, I feel your answer from last night's hang out could do with some clarification at least in my mind, as it did not come across well live.

Cheers, Matt.
+Thomas Hawk I have to disagree. When you go to a museum/gallery, the name of the photographer will be somewhere, often in big fat letters at the entrance and then in very small letters on a plate next to the photo. Similarly, I have a large black&white photo on my wall, with a generous white border and right below the picture in stylish grey letters it says "Andreas Feininger". The names of the great photography masters are visible. So, your argument is flawed: you're saying I shouldn't compare paintings with photography, and yet, you're doing the same mistake by comparing museums with the internet. Of course, there's no need to slap a huge watermark across an Ansel Adams photo in a gallery - simply because it's protected by security and loud alarm bells that will scare the bejeesus out of everybody attempting to steal them. But there is no such security online. I agree that it's looking nasty when a watermark is more visible than the actual picture, but I simply cannot agree that signatures are offensive or a bad thing per se. Signatures are part of the creative process. Paintings are signed, movies have credits, books have the name of the author written all over them - photography is art; don't treat it like a commodity.
+Simone Linke no I said above that I quite like seeing "Monet" down in the corner of his paintings. So yes, it is intellectually inconsistent. I don't know why I feel okay with that... Perhaps it is the artist's sig and the medium are mixed, one in the same... the oil paint is one with the oil sig. Maybe there is something there.
This is one of my favorite I've seen of yours, Trey!
I am very inconsistent in my watermarking. I find it to be more of a pain in my butt to do for each and every image I post publicly. I have just decided to forego the watermark altogether. Time is money. +Thomas Hawk knows how I use to spend so much energy trying to protect copyrights. And he made a valid point a few months back, if someone wants to use your image, and they are legit, then they will contact you or they won't use it. It's like having a model release. I don't mind watermarks, except when they obscure the image.
Nice to hear that this strategy just works. I was hoping that providing online content with a liberal license should work, and you just proved this to be true. And I hope that every lawyer out there hunting "pirates on the internet" will print out your last point in big letters and think about it:

"...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..."
I mean take it all it's public domain because I want it this way, if only You can mention my name I will appreciate, you know and we all know that watermark or else can be taken off anyway, and You can anyway in Google+ impossible to copy, or right click and save as,,, Yesss you are a great artist with an huge heart who had understood the power and freedom of the net, I am all yours, thank you.
Totally agree -- especially in regards to watermarks that are over the SUBJECT. I refuse to "like/+1" those kinds of photos.
I was also bouncing on this topic a little, in the end I decided to go without watermarks. In US, you got the copyright office where you can register the images, this service would not be accepted in a lawsuit in Europe (correct me on this if I am wrong).

As an extension of this topic - for example in Slovak law, there is a clause that any photograph can be freely used for educational purposes, it can appear in school books etc. without any compensation.
+Simone Linke It's about having a sensitivity to the typeface used, in a suitable colour that wont distract. The problem then is, someone with any form of Photoshop skills can easily clone out a small signature in a bottom corner. It won't be a photographer but someone who thinks they can sell the image on for their benefit.
Sorry, +Trey Ratcliff, this got confused by too many people talking to each other at the same time. :-) I was mostly referring to Thomas Hawk's statement that signatures are offensive per se. I find your arguments above pretty logical (coming from someone whose style is basically as good as a signature), I'm just worried that general statements like "signatures are offensive" send the wrong message.
Glad to come across another photographer who gets it! I asked my husband the other day, "Could you imagine if contractors wrote their name really big across their work when they were finished?" It's just crazy to me! And, who needs all the extra stress? No, thank you. If someone wants to steal it they are going to steal it regardless.
Ah, and congrats - your post made it right into current Google+ "What's hot" listing
+Trey Ratcliff Yeah I know, I didn't take it that way. I just wanted to take a few seconds while the subject is on the table to mention the fact that no matter how big the company, it does happen. And you are right to say that it's less than 1% of the time. As I said, I won't change my habbit because of it ;)

On another note, I love this particular shot of time square, reminds me of the few times I went there... except for the sky, I always happen to go there on a cloudy week end ;)
Thanks for sharing your view point, I agree with you.
Great points there +Trey Ratcliff. You have actually gotten me to consider using Creative Commons for my images now. I remember you showing us this one during the hangout last night.
What's the problem with letting someone use it commercially?
The only photographers I remember are the ones that don't watermark their images, the watermark detracts from the image. Every artist wants appropriate credit to be given to their work, but I think watermarking images does the opposite, at least for me that seems to be the case.
Mr Ratcliff I will simply remember your name with your images, nothing can take this from you. It will pay back to You, rest assure. 

+Matt Braynard that is a strange question. Why would I spend $15,000+ to go to China and use another $20,000 worth of equipment to make a beautiful photo that American Airlines can use for free?
agree with all points - but beware - the daily mail has been stealing people's photos to use. so watch out! not sure why anybody would read that trash either though.
Because you're a nice guy Trey...and American Airlines can use all the help it can!

Yes, I'm kidding...about the American Airlines bit...not that you're not a nice guy.
The difference between the Trey Ratcliffs of the world and the amateur or struggling professional is that often times our revenue comes from lesser companies and individuals who would gladly (maybe not on purpose per se) take our images for printing or use. We don't have people knocking down our doors asking for prints or licenses.
Trey - I know of you because of a friend of mine. I am absolutely amazed at the beauty you have captured through the lense. The pictures you have taken are places I will more than likely never see with my own eyes. Thank you for letting me see them through your eyes. I feel as though I have seen these places now through my own eyes. Thank you. God Bless you. - Tracey
+Trey Ratcliff It seems like there is such a thin line between commercial and non-commercial use, that's why.

I can use your photo 'non-commercially' in a way that does get me monetary gain but just skirts around the definition of 'commercial.'

I think what it comes down to is that you can plausibly sue a large company like American Airlines if they jack your photo, but it's hard to sue Sue Ellen from Witchita who puts it on her blog, which may be running Adwords, so you don't bother.
+Trey Ratcliff I find it strange that you use a Creative Commons Non-Commercial, yet state in as a "Sample Use Requiring a License": create an individual print for use in a private home. If the print was to be hung at a business place, I'd understand, but as such isn't it contradictory ? Even though I do not use CC (because I prefer to state the terms of my grant of rights myself), I actualy do grant that right, but then I do not provide 6000 pix images.
I think everyone needs to look at the big picture here, dismissing a great photo or any form or expression as ugly because an artist signed their work? Blasphemy. That's one of the most stupid things I've heard in a long time. I can only imagine that you miss out on a lot of inspiration an beautiful images. Thinking tangibly here, do you not drive a car because it is branded/watermarked? Or not use your computer or wear clothes? That's just foolish. All of the greats sign their work, a form of branding. I'm not saying do or do not dare create anything without giving your self proper credit, it's a choice but to just to think that way is ridiculous. 
#4 is pretty important, and in my beginner's mind introduces the most confusion. I bypass it for the time being by taking shitty pictures, but think someone could make quite a bit of money designing a site to which you can upload your photo, populate a few fields, and have the licensing information processed/forwarded to whichever agency is in charge of organizing these things.
This is awesome Trey! The amount of work you put in to it really shows!!
Why I use watermarks

1) to keep clients from using and posting proofs. I hate it when a proof ( not cleaned and corrected) shows up on facebook or on a web site. For this I put a massive watermark across the image.

2) I am not well known or have a distinctive style, so I like to "sign" my images. If you like what you see you might make the effort to look for more images by me... but you have to know who I am.
+Matt Payne , i'm in the same boat with you. but it seams unlikely that those lesser comapnies or individuals would have paid any money at all, ever. no matter what.

so, fuck it.
Hopefully, a lot of young photographers will take your advice to heart. Too many spend enormous energy on protecting their work and too little time on creating something worth protecting. Your approach has obviously paid off and works!
Not sure about watermarks, but as far as I know, most fine art prints are signed. Using a watermark is not necessarily a sign of "fear", but a business decision. For instance, it is desirable that people are able to easily identify the source of an image which is shared. Also, +Trey Ratcliff, since you are mentioning legal actions in #4 you are surely aware that the presence of a watermark contributes to make infringements "willful".
The term 'watermarked' is completely wrong. What people are really doing is logo stamping. A watermark is a faint image, it would be like masking your name on the corner using photoshop's type tools and hitting it with a 1% color saturation screen or something like that so that if you blew it up and squinted you could tell there was a name there. What I see is a really noticeable logo branding. I find them ugly and distracting from the picture. Think of classic fine art: the signature is a tiny thing hidden in the brush strokes.
Nice to hear your views +Trey Ratcliff. Somehow, the use of the word steal sounds a bit strong. Maybe I'm a bit too liberal...

Many people are not really aware of copyright issues applied to the creatives, causing a lot of confusion. Though your licensing terms are perhaps most liberal amongst your peers, some photographers don't even allow hotlinks, whereas, to the best of my knowledge, hotlinks are not a violation of copyright law.

Just wrote this comment because I was reminded of the now famous incident that happened few days ago... if I remember correctly, the word thief was used in a way I would not have expected from professionals (maybe cultural differences show here). Have a half written blog post about that incident, should complete it soon.
I have always hated watermarks, thinking that they were just freaking ugly and detracted from the impact of the image. I ran a test and used one, just my name, for a short time on a handful of images and it made me vomit to see that on my own work. It confirmed for me that it was absolutely not the way I wanted to share my images. When I see other images with them, it annoys me - it's like having something stuck in my eye - like an eye goober that floated over my pupil. I want to keep wiping at my eyes to get that crappy thing out of my way so I can see the image clearly! It ruins the experience I should be having when I'm viewing your art.

As for images being "stolen," my biggest reason for keeping my works ARR for a long time was the fear that somebody was going to lift photos of my son and do something awful with them. Over time I realized that, while unpleasant, ultimately what does it really matter? Photos of him are just photos of him. Not him. And any time anybody ever asked me to use my photos, I said yes. Any time somebody said, oh, I have your image as my desktop, etc, I was flattered. And really, I want my work to be widely viewed and enjoyed... So I rethought all of this earlier this year. All my work is now CC (Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike). This is, of course, a personal choice. I absolutely and completely stand by the right of other artists to choose differently, and if they don't want their images used, I think their desires about their work should be honored. I just don't apply the same philosophy to my work, because I see things differently.

When I became a blogger, I got tangled up in discussions much like this about "scraping" the written content of posts, where fellow bloggers would lock down their feeds (partial feeds) so that readers couldn't access the entire article in their Feed Readers (hopefully stopping the auto-scraping theft of their content). I thought that was shitty - it not only stopped the work from being shared as widely, but it inconvenienced loyal followers of the author. Why not unlock your content so it can spread as far as possible? I would ask and get a lot of backlash about how they had to protect their words from being used in bad ways. I can understand wanting the attribution - people work at these pieces, they put their heart and soul into them, earn a living from them. But it just seemed bad to me to lock it down that way.

I really do want my work, both writing and photography, to travel as far and wide as it can, even when I'm not being credited. (Don't get me wrong, I really do want to be credited.) But even more, and part of the reason I share publicly of everything I make/feel, I want to create things that impact people, that inspire them, that make a moment of their lives more or better or deeper or whatever. If I keep everything tied to me, that will not happen.

I love +Thomas Hawk's analogy of the birds here: (lifted from his comment on this post:
"As an artist it's my personal goal to have my work distributed as widely as possible in every form all over this planet. I could care less about anything else. An artist's goal is to have their work seen, to make people think, wonder, feel.

I look at my photography like this. When I make an image it belongs to me. It belongs to me while I take the photo. It belongs to me while it sits in my camera. It belongs to me while I process it on my Mac. It belongs to me while I let it sit in an archive folder waiting to be uploaded to the internet.

Then I upload it to the internet and it’s like I’m taking a bird and opening my window and letting it go. Off she goes. Her song to be enjoyed by the entire world — certainly no longer mine.

There’s a wild band of parrots that flies around San Francisco. They squawk and make beautiful noise in the trees above the city. I think someone made a movie about them once. They are far more beautiful and interesting to me than the parrots who live in the cages at the pet store. They are owned by nobody.

Your mileage may vary."

What an eloquent explanation of his philosophy.

I'd love to be able to see where my birds go, to have the pleasure of learning about their journeys - even to be complimented for raising them so well before I set them free. But even if I don't, I kind of like just being able to sit back and think about how somebody out there just saw or heard one of them and is smiling.

(And now I have written a novel. See what happens when I have too much coffee?)
I wish I could add a comment as good as everyone else, but all I can say is nice work. Could make a great background.
Trey, your work is amazing, very Van Gogh! I would love to use some of these pix as wallpaper - it would brighten those dreary winter days.
that is the apple . . . in all of its glory!
This reminds me of a while back when someone on the Model Mayhem site had stolen some photography from the Lavancher Studios of NY website. Not only did they misrepresent themselves as the photographer but they were using the images to prey on naive women. I don't believe they added any watermark or logos to their images after I had written to them about the incident. But I did suggest they should find a company who can "tag" the images and trace it to websites it may be copied on without permission. -No idea if they did, but they seemed to appreciate the feedback
Thanks for continuing to share your (amazing!) work in such an open fashion. :)
p.s I am not against the idea of a watermark/logo -in photography I think of it as a certified eye-of-approval stamp from the artist themselves. Sort of like a personal signature that every painter and designer feeds into their art once it is finished.
Personally I am not a fan of watermarks or names/websites on photos posted on the internet. I tend to just skip right on by images where they are enough to be a distraction. I guess I've viewed the photographers information in the photo detail as a signature of sorts. I do however find that when an image captures my attention, I tend to seek out the photographer and their other images. Sometimes this is to purchase, at other times it is for the pure pleasure of looking at them and for inspiration.
+Thomas Hawk Some people choose to have photography as their only income. And not everyone has dedicated legal people around like +Trey Ratcliff. There are people who aren't in the same situation as you guys are!

I do agree that it's nicer to have photos without watermarks. But if people choose to do it anyways I'm not gonna make a big deal out of it.
Mike S
Out of curiosity - when you say, "it's an easy lawsuit" how many lawsuits do you file?
Beautiful work as always +Trey Ratcliff. You inspired me to take up photography and you continue to inspire me every day. =)

+Nathan Lee We do enough lawsuits (and win enough) to know it is easy.

+Nono den Tex You should know this was my policy before I had a dedicated team around me. And Photography is my sole income.

+Matt Redding yes - maybe I should have said "Logo Stamping" ! :) hehe
Most of what you said, I would tend to agree with. #6 I don't. I did a search of one of my images on google and it got 11,000 hits. It has no watermark. I doubt that anyone has a clue as to who made it. How is that generating traffic?
To play devil's advocate... most of us don't have a "team". Nor do we have a following so big and a style so distinctive that our work would be quickly recognized as stolen if someone tried to pass it off as their own.

That said, I don't watermark for most of the same reasons.
Truly spectacular images. Have never seen anything like it - unbelievable!
I don't like watermarks in general, however I find it really annoying when I find an image I really like but no way to trace it back to it's original creator
Very nice work! I may just take you up on your generous offer from time to time. Thanks!
Awsome attitude. I have a few folders filled with great artwork that i haven't cited yet. It's easy for me to neglect them because of google image search (heart!) and tineye. My attitude has been "if you wanna know who it is just search," but i'm totally being lazy. Your attitude is inspiring me to share art more responsibly, i have my homework cutout for me =)
+Trey Ratcliff , while I understand your perspective on watermarking and agree with many of your points, I think watermarking still has a place for those that want to protect their IP.

I wholeheartedly agree with your statement that watermarks can be ugly and most will distract a viewer of an image. While not a pro, and I rarely sell prints, I am growing much more active in my photographic interests to include moderating a couple popular groups on DeviantArt. When voting on images to be included in our groups, many of my peers will never approve a watermarked image. I won't go quite to that extreme, but I do not vote for images with large, centrally located watermarks.

However, I DO watermark my images. I put a small watermark in one of the corners of most of my images with my contact info. In this way, if one of my images "gets loose in the wild," a viewer will know how to get a hold of me if they want to buy a print.
Jojo T.
In short your not selfish, sharing to people your picture for fun ! two thumbs-up ...
For those asking about copyright registration, I recommend this excellent ASMP tutorial: . As I'm a pro photog trying to earn money from licensing, I register most of my images; it only costs $35 a batch for as many as you can upload in an hour. And you don't have to do it before publishing; you have 90 days. Even without registration, you can still sue for damages if you are infringed, as your images are copyrighted the moment you press the shutter. But without registration, you can only recover actual rather than punitive damages. All this information applies specifically to the USA only!

As far as watermarks, I do still use one on most of my photos, but have made it smaller since starting to post to G+ and observing the habits and preferences of other photographers here. It's a personal choice, and I don't consider a watermark to mar a photo if it's small and subtle.

I'm aware that watermarks are easy to crop or clone out even if they're placed through the middle. I also put my copyright and contact information in both the EXIF and IPTC data, but of course a screenshot wipes this out as well. If what +Trey Ratcliff says becomes true, that "In 1 year+, we'll be able to r-click an image and choose "Google-find the original creator" ", that will indeed be a great advancement. (We already have the early stages of that with Google search-by-image, and of course Tineye and other services.)
I'll stop using watermarks on my work when:

1. I feel that my photography is a business instead of my art
2. I have a big enough audience who understands that my photography is my photography w/o labeling it as such
3. I stop caring if it's posted somewhere else w/ the possibility that it could be posted without attribution - Creative Commons, I support, but "no one" understands it yet.

About my watermark: I use a 9px font at 60% opacity in the bottom corner of an image is very unobtrusive. If the photography I take and watermark isn't appreciated for the small, barely noticeable, 2 word, 1 symbol object floating like a ghost in the bottom right... then my photography isn't good enough. I think my photography is good enough, it's good enough to me, and it's merely how I express myself. Anyone contesting that can simply not pay attention. I don't tell others how to post-process their photos, I'd expect the same courtesy from other artists who express themselves by whatever means. That said, +Trey Ratcliff - you have a knack for how well you bake your HDR images, though not my cup o' tea, well done.
+Trey Ratcliff You're sure not the only person to use the term watermarking for logo stamping. I've been boggling since I first heard it. Then again, this is hardly the first time the internet has lit upon the wrong word to describe something. The tech writer in me may someday have to go all Ghost of the English Language on someone.
Completely agree with all your points there Trey. Don't like watermarks and don't like borders or titles on pictures either. I take the same risks as you do with regards to the internet but happy to take them for people to see the pure picture as it is.
Picasso watermarked his images. He signed and dated them right on the front. I also like somebody to know who took the photo they are looking at. My business depends on that. I guess it depends on why you are posting images.
It seems to be the way of it for me. I was initially attracted to the beauty of your images, now I find I appreciate your mind.
BTW, after seeing your post, I went back and added a link-back to one of your photos I posted on FB. If you had been demanding with me, I might not have been so eager.
I watermark my photos, in part to help protect my ownership rights, and in part to make it easy for people to find me. Over the past year or so (since I started) I've found my watermark getting smaller and smaller; I've always tried to make it visible but not detracting.

Using a watermark doesn't mean I think YOU are a thief. It means I'm acknowledging that there are thieves out there, and I don't want my hard work stolen. (As an example, there are a bunch of people here on G+ who copy photos and put them in their own albums without attribution; the G+ default is to label that photo as being taken by them, and without a watermark it's difficult to see who really DID do the work.)

I have semi-pro friends who have had their work stolen by companies. One friend licensed a photo to use for a single issue of a publication, which then re-licensed it out to others without even notifying him, let alone getting permission. When he notified the companies involved, their reaction (to my knowledge) was to shrug and ignore the issue.

The "information wants to be free" being translated to mean "all your digital work are belong to everyone to do whatever they want" argument is one I'm FAR too familiar with. My partner is an author and we have a small publishing company together; a few years ago we put out a limited edition benefit anthology. We did NOT put out a digital edition, which is what saved it from being pirated (along with all the artwork it contained). In fact, we specifically did not get digital rights from any of our authors or artists... so when we found it listed on Google Books as being a part of their collection "as soon as they've had a chance to scan it" we were pissed. Not only did Google not own the digital rights to that book and that artwork; they made no effort whatsoever to license them from us--and couldn't have, even if they HAD asked.

Unfortunately, that seems to be a fairly standard mindset among people regarding any kind of creative work when it's in a digital form. I have several friends who are award-winning authors whose work is pirated the moment it comes out in digital form. They do not agree that pirating increases their sales. I have several friends who are musicians, whose work is pirated the moment it comes out in digital form. One friend put out a CD recently, sold a few hundred copies, and found several illegal download sites each claiming that it had been downloaded from their site tens of thousands of times. This particular friend runs a wildlife rescue, and cannot afford to have her work stolen on a massive scale. For that matter... who CAN?

This is not a topic I'm neutral on, to say the least.

When I put out a given work, whether it's a photograph or a book, I get to decide what happens to it. I make the decision as to whether I sign the rights over to someone else, or give a copy to someone else, or tell someone else that it's okay for them to make copies to give away. +Trey Ratcliff is well-known enough that he has whole corps of people who can identify his work on sight and who will defend his ownership rights. I don't. My watermark does that work for me.

And yeah, if my work is hung in a show, it won't have the watermark on it... but there will be a sign identifying it as my work.

(I should note that part of my release form specifies that the subject of any photo I take owns the rights to their own image and has full rights to use photos I take of them for publicity purposes. I always offer them a non-watermarked version in whatever file format they might need, including print-quality.)
Dan Ho
I think points 2,3,4 happen because you already have a big budget to do them. For individual photographers who don't have as big an operating budget, people tend to think they can have their own way with you.

Besides watermark is branding. You would never say "damn I saw that beautiful jag but all I could focus on was that jaguar on the hood not the car."

Your photos are amazing man! Keep up the great work.
Thanks for your insights. You should polish this post a bit and submit it as an article to a magazine, it is almost there as it stands now. Added you to my "Photography" circle. Thanks for the post.
Thanks. Just so you know +Dan Ho this was my policy even before I had a team around me. I think it is a good one, no matter the magnitude of the operation.
I've always admired your nouveau views on copyright and image property. And I think your success is a living example of this method actually working to your benefit.
Helle +Trey Ratcliff
my english is not so good, as I have understood everything ;)
but your Photos looks very nice.
I've subscribed to their youtube channel and needs to be amazed again and again ;)
I was just pondering this very topic. I haven't watermarked photos at this time and people have been very good about asking permission to use them. I am branching out into some other areas where people might want to "borrow" the content and I think that with some r-click protection and CC declaration I can be comfortable. I agree that watermarked photos can look really bad, especially when displayed small with a non-resizing WM overlay. Thanks for your post.
Love the "These are the Tic-Tacs that are stolen from the 7-11." sentence....very true.
My main concern with people stealing images is how to handle it just by yourself; you have a team behind you to go after the troublemakers. And you sell/license a lot more images that the loss of a little may not bother much.
But for a person just starting out, that can be pretty demoralizing. He/She may not have the bandwidth/manpower/time to go after the culprits and the crooks.

Watermarks, if done correctly, can also be a great way to brand/market your presence online as people can instantly recognize who the photographer is. I would still watermark images, albeit making it small and inconspicuous.
Wow!! I always love your NY images - makes me want to go and see all the action - would probably get tired after an hour though!
Number four and number eight contradict each other.

4: Simple. Registered. Non-commercial use OK with guidelines. Commercial use, license required or else law suit to discourage being taken advantage of.

8: Practical, can't get blood from a stone, but complex in that it is a double standard that could compromise one's ability to later demonstrate a consistent history of copyright registration and enforcement policy in court.

No doubt theft is probably a problem for 7-11 stores. But as a matter of policy and business strategy, they do/do not press charges against shoplifters based on financial status?

I do agree with you that piece of mind vs. security fears and paranoia is something to consider when putting work up on the internet.

Watermarking or not - a respectable personal/business/aesthetic choice for each individual. Removing a watermark: Also a violation of the DMCA, and harder for someone to claim unwillfull infringement if they had to remove the artist's name. If you don't like it visually, there is always the metadata option...
+Trey Ratcliff just want to say that you are not only an awesome photographer you are also an awesome person =)
I understand your arguments, and can see how you arrived at them. If I already had a name as recognized as yours, and a style so typical and easily identifiable, I might've come to a similar conclusion.
I wish I could agree, but I am actually going back to "logo marking" certain photos. I have been covering a lot of the Occupy movement here in Boston, and over the last week my photos have been ripped from my blog and other places and plastered all over facebook, tumblr and other places with absolutely no credit. While I may not be AP or Reuters, I conduct myself as if I was when I shoot and not getting credit for possibly society changing photos is starting to get to me. Trey if I was in your shoes, maybe I would view it differently but I don't have an army of fans (myself included) that can spot my work.
Dan Ho
+Trey Ratcliff I used to do that too, until I decided to shoot professionally, full time.

I think it's a different set of guidelines for different people in different photography circles and stages.

When people see HDR, they think Trey Ratcliff that's why you don't need a watermark.

For the other 205 commentors so far on here, if I saw any of their work, their name would never come to mind even if I intended to seek out the photographer's name to begin with.
I agree with this post 110% I have been asked about this a lot and this really sums it up! Thanks for the post!

+Tamara Pruessner I can't talk about the Time case.

+Sathish Jothikumar Maybe I should not have put "team" there. You don't need a team.... this was my policy even before I had a team. It's been my policy for 6 years.
Great work Trey, and your approach is refreshing.
+Trey Ratcliff - I kind of figured there wasn't an update available, but I wanted to make sure I didn't miss any from the article that you linked.
This sounds like a logical strategy that meets the new technology where it is, instead of trying to retrofit it to preserve the existing model. I hope more people see the sense in this less-litigious stance.
I will certainly be stealing your photos - and will, of course, include credit with link. Thank you!
Thanks +Trey Ratcliff! I could not agree more with your philosophy and the liberation that comes with it! Paranoia and photography make for a different outcome then what I seek... Aloha.
Ah, New York...the greatest city in the world! LOVE IT!!!
The only effective use of watermarks I've seen is with senior portraits. Many of my daughter's friends all went through the same place and 1/2 of them learned about the studio from the watermark on their other friends' photos.

My sister is a (non-active) artist and she signs her paintings/drawings in a small, indiscreet manner. The sculptures she did have her signature hidden. In some cases, the sculpture would almost need to be broken to see it. So not all non-photography art is visibly signed/marked.
+Trey Ratcliff Guess, I will have to start working out a policy soon then - one of my very early images which I shot even before I knew what I was doing has been stolen and used in many websites. I had tried to contact the webmasters but got no response, leaving me with very few options!
Zero Dean
+Trey Ratcliff

With all due respect

I think it's important to remember that WE (photographers) are really not our target audience. We don't look at photographs the same way as those who look at photos to just appreciate them for what they are -- nice photos.

We analyze and study. We look at colors and contrast and composition. We look for halos, fringing, signs of cloning or the healing brush.

We wonder what plug-ins they used or what kind of lenses and how much of the photo was captured at the time it was taken and how much was altered afterwards.

We think about what kind of lens was used and if it was a Canon or a Nikon. We wonder if the EXIF data is available.

And of course we look at the watermark -- and to some of us, it's offensive. How dare that ugly thing be on what would otherwise be a "great photo"!?

But you know what? Most of the people who appreciate our photos the most don't care one bit about any of the things we are thinking about when we look at a photo. Most don't even think much of a watermark unless it is so big and bold and ugly that it's a distraction from the work -- but I think they have a much higher tolerance for what is "acceptable" with a watermark than we do.

They just appreciate the photo for what it is. That's what I think it should be about.
I'm with +Elia Locardi -- a watermark is a watermark. It's not the photo -- and it's the photo I'm looking at.

If I'm going to BUY a photo, then yeah, I think a watermark should be very discreet or non existent, but if I'm looking at a photo for free on the internet -- and it's yours -- do as you please.

And there are many times I'm thankful for a watermark, because I can look up a photographer that way -- and other times I wish a photo had a watermark so I could. Reverse image look-up doesn't always work -- and it certainly doesn't always work for images that haven't been online long -- and if something you post goes viral and your name isn't attached to it, that's a lost opportunity.

Or if someone is just collecting cool photos they find on the internet and throwing them in a folder -- for inspiration or just reference (in many different industries) for later -- or if they download photos to use as screensavers -- a watermark will be a reminder of where they got it and a pointer on where they can go to get more by the same photographer.


Not to mention -- if you have a memorable or unique name -- (and especially if you were tortured by it as a kid) -- might as well get some use out of it as an adult.

Just saying. It would be kind of silly for me not to put my name on my work -- but it's also a double edged sword.

If you suck or have a bad reputation, people will see your name and remember it. For example, I might be considered a troublemaker for writing this.


I do find it a little sad if photographers are being excluded from "clubs/groups" because they watermark their work. Having some guidelines for such, I can understand -- perhaps small and discreet and in a specific font, whatever -- but banning great photographers from a club/group of great photographers because the photographer chooses to put their watermark on a photo? I have a tough time with that.

But then, I have a tough time with conformity -- as pointed out by my web site, but I'll spare sharing the link, because that's not what this post is about. ;)


I think it's easy for "big fish" -- such as yourself or +Thomas Hawk -- to make these decisions about watermarking because they are not in the position of not actually needing any kind of watermark on their work to get recognition. I would be very surprised if any of the anti-watermark photographers never watermarked their work at one time.

I think it's something you grow into -- or it's something that someone who is immensely popular and influential (such as yourself) s̶u̶g̶g̶e̶s̶t̶s̶ (my bad) explains why they don't watermark and then everyone does it, whether it truly makes sense or not. With great power comes great responsibility. ;)

I'm not saying your arguments don't make sense -- only that they don't necessarily apply to everyone and you are not representative of most no name photographers.

Let's face it, if you're a successful photographer getting paid to do what you love, I don't think it matters so much whether your name is on your work or whether people know immediately who did it.

If you're doing what you love, getting recognized for it, getting paid well, and are immensely popular online -- which provides you with a certain amount of power and influence over others -- there really isn't much need for a watermark is there? After all, everyone already knows who did it anyway (or knows somebody who does).

And that doesn't even matter really if you're popular, powerful, influential, and getting paid to do what you love.

If I won the lottery, I couldn't care less about watermarking my work -- and I'd probably just give it away to anyone who wanted it anyway.


Zero Dean
Nice write up...logical and thoughtful.
I would be very surprised if any of the anti-watermark photographers never watermarked their work at one time.

+Zero Dean I've never watermarked any of my images ever.

More importantly I'm not telling anyone else what to do and neither is Trey here. I'm simply saying that I don't use them and choose largely not to consume photos by folks who do. Anyone can do whatever they want with their photos.
Very cool photo! +Trey Ratcliff Thanks for sharing the link on registering photos, it's something I've been wanting to look into doing. +Julie Bernstein I also have seen folks here on Google+ posting other photographer's photos not by sharing so you can see where it originated, but by copying and putting them up as their own, 2 out of 5000+ have done this. +Sandra Buskirk
I believe whether to watermark or not should be a preference of choice by the individual artist and I am not apposed to either method. I understand both views, you need to decide what you do based on your comfort level and business needs. I will continue to enjoy all the inspiring photos that I have been seeing here on Google+ :o)

+Jonathan Chase How do I pay the rent? We license images to commercial companies, among other things.

+Zero Dean I respect your opinion. You may end up coming around some day... I don't think it matters if you are a "big name" or not --- I'm really not. I'm only known to a small subset of people, but it has been my policy for the last 6 years. And I know that the watermark was the old way of figuring out who took the photo -- but now you can so easily r-click and image and find out. I think most serious buyers could track you down if they wanted to.

+Sathish Jothikumar Just let them go... It is not doing you much harm, really. If someone sees them and wants to license them, chances are they will be able to track you down thanks to modern tech.
+Thomas Hawk Well, I am very surprised. :) And I absolutely respect that -- it definitely takes a certain amount of confidence or a particular mindset to do that from the very beginning.

And yes, I don't see anyone telling anyone else what to do (I need to check my post to make sure I wasn't implying that) -- but obviously people are talking about it (which is a good thing) and there is a certain amount of influence there -- which is just the nature of the beast in being popular.
And... if you guys have any IP questions, +Christa Laser is a good one to ask... she agrees with me on 98% of stuff. That other 2% is about food.
I've been wrestling with this issue over my photo works and movies/videos. The thought of piracy can be debilitating. I like your position. Looking forward to the liberating effects!
+Trey Ratcliff I haven't read all the comments here, so maybe this has been covered already, but I'm curious - do you think this might differ between different types of photographers? In other words, maybe the lack of a watermark is useful in your style of photography, but do you think this would be the case for someone who does mostly wedding photography or something similar?
+Zero Dean: You make some good points. Especially agree with this: "If I'm going to BUY a photo, then yeah, I think a watermark should be very discreet or non existent". Any photo licensed from me, whether low- or hi-res, is watermark-free. I appreciate when purchasers of my photos give me credit or put a link to my site, but I don't even require that if they are actually paying money to license the photo.
+Trey Ratcliff Oh, I'd stop watermarking my work in an instant if I didn't think the the upside outweighed the downside. And this may change over time.

I'm not really anti-anti-watermark. I just don't think "one size fits all" (and I'm not suggesting you suggested that) or that a watermark is inherently "bad". I'm just adding my own opinion to the mix.

I just read earlier about how some photographer's #OWS photos went viral -- (someone else made it happen) -- and their name was not attached to their work... that seems like a lost opportunity.
May have been posted already: I think it ultimately depends on the image. A small watermark on a "busy" image really makes no difference. While the same watermark on a beautiful sunset image could ruin the entire thing. And if you're only going to use it on some images, why use it at all? Good post, I agree with most of your points.
Bigger Question: How many photographers register their work with the U.S. Library of Congress Copyright Office?
I like the way you share your work, I see the Internet pretty much like you. That's why I put on my illustrations a signature and not a watermark over the entire picture. I share my work freely, it makes me so happy when other people share what I do and give me credit. Many groups ask me if they can use my illustrations to create tags with credits, and I always say yes with pleasure. The only detail is that when an illustration is used commercially wrongly, I don't know of any easy lawsuit in France. Anyway, I like the spirit of "internet-trust". Life is more open like this!
+Leslie Taylor I think it is a good policy for all kinds of photography. I admit that I don't really understand wedding photography, but I do believe it is a business where most many clients are generated by word-of-mouth. That is, a personal recommendation means a lot more than a watermark. And then, when people share the image, again, I think many people can't help but think about that big cursive sig stamped in the corner. Another reason, I believe, some wedding photographers put a big stamp down there is so that their clients can't print their own copies. This seems like a breakdown in the client-photographer relationship to me. It also feels like an old, untrusting way of doing business. But, again, I'm not in that industry.

And for wedding photos, having a big stamped cursive logo there seems almost offensive on top of something so personal. Know what I mean?
number 4) is it really worth the legal costs just to chase some guy using your image in his website?

just ask him to take it down :/
I especially dislike it when I see watermarks that cover the whole image and you can't even tell what makes it a good image. I also really dislike horribly made custom logos... especially when the work itself is horrible. I don't watermark anything either. I don't feel like I need to and I'll more or less give my work away.
+Trey Ratcliff What if I, as a for-profit consultant, used one of your photos to create a graphic for a non-profit, non-commercial organization, and we didn't bill the client for the photo, just for the time it took us to incorporate it/find it/etc. And we used it in the way you ask (that gives you lonk credit, etc.)

Would that be considered commercial or not?
Unless the watermark - branding isn't too obvious I don't really mind. I include my name underneath each of my image.

What I don't like is people who post amazing images but not any bigger than a post-stamp.
I originally made this comment to someone that had reshared your post instead of to you by mistake -

You rock!

All rights reserved copyright grants great legal power to giant corporations with massive volumes of content. I call them Mickey Mouse and Friends. They appoint themselves the authorities in the production of culture and us the consumer that must pay to participate. As Larry Lessig puts it (founder of Creative Commons), never in history has culture been so top down. It hurts independent artists and cripples the memetic nature of creative expression. Everybody is worse off for it. Remixing, while popular, is considered dirty and merely tolerated so long as it is not profitable. Meanwhile, MM&F all cross licence to do what many consider "amazing" remixes are simply the product of the few that can legally do it.

Watermarks tend to simply remind me of what a disgusting legal environment we live in with respect to "science and the useful arts". Not sure I could agree more with every point you made or way of handling things.

Thank you for sharing. It takes content creators like you to enable a "read-write" culture once again.
Your photos are peppered across all my desktops.
Why do I have to see this? You're not in my circles & I have no interest. My settings are extremely restricted yet I'm forced to see this nonsense. Bleh
Gave me a lot to think about.
There is no such thing as an "easy lawsuit", even if your art (music, photos, art, etc.) are protected by copyright. Unfortunately, direct experience in this has let me down. The only people who win are lawyers.
I agree with you, Trey. Though I still have a very tiny, almost invisible, watermark on my uploads. I do this so people can find me more easily, cause I know I hate when I want to find the creator of an image, but there is no way I can.
An example of my watermark (bottom right corner):
What do you think about this kind of watermark?

(Oops, just realized I didn't put watermark on three of my uploads, oh well. )
+Shelley Ettinger this is especially important information for you. You of all people should think carefully about this.
Love love love love love your work Trey...I appreciate the fact that you do not have a watermark on your work....however...some will abuse the fact that you do not have one...I am sure you are aware. I will share your work with the link of course. What a amazing talent you have been blessed with.
+Trey Ratcliff thanks for the thoughts ... been debating about removing my watermark for some time, and I might just try it out once I get my camera back from the repair shop. :)
Wow, so much yesness. ;-)

I respect this approach and am glad it works for some. Others may not have the same option to license their work under CC due to contractual obligations with distributors etc. I would prefer not to watermark my work but for some of the reasons already mentioned, I feel it's in my best interest at this time. I think it is unfortunate that a few people go so far as to ridicule those who choose to watermark their work.

To each his/her own.
tl;dr all the comments, but sir I wish every photographer had that view.
I think there are a fair number of people who would like to a) know who and b) give recognition to the photographer, so I see my watermark as a signature that offers others the liberty to share with courtesy... even if it does require more work on my part and is a slight visual distraction.
Happened to chance your post on G+ and became a new follower and fan of your work. I truly respect and admire your ability to bring so much life to your work that it has an otherworldly quality to them.

That said, I completely agree with your sentiments. Publishing and sharing online is a risk and no amount of watermarking and r-click or disabling will prevent a thief from taking a picture that they want. Ultimately it wastes time and energy. Some watermark on the an external border, which is somewhat better and gives some information about the photographer without looking like paranoia. Hopefully google will eventually develop an appropriate image source tracker of some kind. I could see some loopholes in it, but at least it will help legitimate artists and control copyright/license issues.
first day of the very first graphic design class i took we learned how to remove watermarks - the only watermark you ever need is a little c with a circle around it copyright exists for a reason
Guess what, +Shelley Ettinger, you're going to keep hearing about it because more people are going to tag you in comments like this.


You don't have to see anything. If +Trey Ratcliff is not in your Circles, there is no reason you should see this in your Stream. Clearly, your settings are not as "extremely restricted" as you think.
I love your pics.. and yes some times I download them for my desktop wallpaper. I agree with you a water mark would steal some attention and make the pic a bit uglier.
Pictures with a large transparent copyright and name in the center definitely turn me off. That ruins the image. Why bother. However, I don't have a problem with a small copyright, logo, or name put in a corner of an image with a color that doesn't stand out too much. I don't think it is done as a fear of the work being stolen but so your name will stay with the work. So much of G+ is about having your work seen and getting your name out. I don't put anything over the images I post but I do put them in a white frame with my web address at the bottom. Does anyone have a problem with that? I have sold thousands of my images as fine art on paper and canvas. I have always signed them right on the image in the lower right hand corner and numbered on the lower left. It is small and doesn't stand out. Many customers ask if the work is signed because they can't readily see the signature. I have yet to lose a sale, have the work de-valued, or had a customer vomit(LOL) because I signed my name in the lower right hand corner.
A little watermark won't prevent people from stealing work if they really want to. It sucks that we have to worry about stolen photos, but there's no need to mar beautiful work. That said, I don't automatically dislike a picture because of a watermark, it just takes away from the beauty.

And on the subject of wedding photography, I agree that the photographer's name in the corner seems to be a little intrusive on a special moment. For promotional materials? Sure. But that's not the same issue, I don't believe.
I think many people are discussing this as there's a "one size fits all" solution -- people are either "for" or "against" the use of watermarks -- and I don't think that's the answer.

I think "use when/where appropriate" (and hopefully in as "visually appealing" and unobtrusive fashion as possible).

I don't think the first thought people should have when they see a watermark is "vomit" or "you're doing it wrong" -- we need to leave it open to individual circumstances. Because YES, there are good reasons to use a watermark and good reasons not to. Choosing one side doesn't make the other any less valid.

With regard to legimate companies don't steal work...

A freelance website artist working for a legitimate company which sells website templates used my work (without my knowledge) in a commercial website template. That template was then purchased by countless people. It was only after I found my work built into a website that I realized my work was stolen -- I thought it was just this one website. No. It was a popular template -- that's why I ran across it.

And in the end, everyone got paid -- except me.

The company he submitted it to didn't know -- so legitimate? I guess. And yes, they stopped selling that particular template -- but all the templates that were sold (I never found out how many), what were they going to to? Nothing.
Awesome as ever Trey! just gonna head around to Times square for the first time, i could not have asked for better inspiration! Thanks.
Watermarking is (or at least can be) a marketing tool also.

That's why Canon, Nikon, Sony, and all other brands on the planet put their name on their work -- in fact, they often go out of their way to do so -- on their cables, their straps, and all the components that come with the primary product.

Only the best brands in the world are so unique that you'd be able to immediately tell what brand it was without the logo -- and yet they still have logos.

That leaves a lot of other brands that actually rely on the logo for recognition.

There are an awful lot of photographers in the world whose work isn't that dissimilar from other photographers that if you tossed it in a folder and sent it to someone, they'd be able to tell it was different photographers -- let alone who took what.

No, a watermark is not a logo (but it can be). But a logo exists for recognition -- and that's why watermarks exist, too.
Legitimate publications do acquire photos without permission now and then. It happens - for whatever reason. Possibly oversights, possibly blatant thievery. I'm getting one oversight cleaned up now, with one of my photos that was used in an international publication. I'm lucky. The editor has freely admitted the error and is taking steps to make it right.
Amazing. I wish I had 1% of you talent. I'm just discovering HDR photography and I'm loving it.... my new obsession! Just need some great subjects like you get to capture! Want to swap jobs for a bit?
Nice philosophy Trey. I wish I could say that I have the same. My images are no where near the quality that yours are but I still feel they are good enough for me to watermark. I don't have a team of people to track down people who misuse my images, I don't have the time nor money to copyright all of my images with the copyright office. I am however a big believer in open source and open license philosophies. I also would like to thank you for your inspiration and for having a CC license that allows me to use your images for my wallpapers. Thanks for sharing your reasoning, its nice to see someone of your level having this attitude towards their work.
Wow was this a long thread to read.. :)
So glad to hear a positive thoughts on letting others see your work w/o watermarks, I so agree it ruins a picture when it has been marked...
+Trey Ratcliff Fantastic approach and so good to see another photographer get it that we are in a digital world and we have to adapt and see the big picture. Excellent logic. Thanks. As a professional photographer, we share these same feelings. Have a great night.
I agree that watermarks ruins the photo.
its great to see someone using creative commons and actually understanding it, however it is possible to put a watermark in that no one can see, unless they know where to look, if i was to put a watermark i would put it together from single pixles through an image, the only way to see that is through a magnifying glass weather a virtual one as in photoshop or a real one.
We use a watermark only for one reason - if somebody want to find the photographer who made the image, he or she can figure out it easily.
I think it's admirable to read your philosophy. Especially you posted so much artistic pictures.
+Trey Ratcliff I get where you're coming from but how do people know that the image is available for non-commercial use under Creative Commons and to contact you for commercial licensing? I just downloaded the Times Square Action jpeg file and on opening in Photoshop, the file info is completely barren - none of it is populated. So how would I know your licensing philosophy and how to contact you if someone else downloaded the image then sent it on to me?
I don't use watermarks either because it sometimes kills the flavor of the picture, but whatever happened to good old fashion metadata? Anytime when a photographer takes a digital picture, it creates not just the f-stop, focus, date, time, etc., but the photographer can add various information such as their name and contact info. Most cases, legitimate digital photos would carry this information and the illegitimate wouldn't carry this info.
I agree with this in every case except social media simply because pictures get re-shared without credit 80% of the time. This isn't a big deal for big photographers i'm sure, but it is when building recognition is important. Nothing is more annoying than finding one's photos in someone else's picasa gallery, for example...Also think about the viewer. I have seen so many lovely photos on the web that were not credited and wished I could find the photographer, but they will remain a mystery. Watermarks are useful when done discreetly and tastefully.
+Trey Ratcliff I agree with what your saying regarding Watermarks. I'm considering taking up your position regarding creative commons Trey it's just that I don't sell that many prints and what I do sell is to individuals, so I think it would be a bad move for me. - Care to comment ?

+Thomas Hawk I find this discussion rather irritating, apologies if I am going over old ground in this thread - it's very long and I don't have time to read all the comments, and at times verging on offensive.
Why ?
I read comments like:
"I find watermarks and signatures personally offensive as a viewer."
I get enraged with the lumping together of Watermarks and Signatures

I agree 100% that there is nothing worse than a Watermark slapped right across the middle of an image, no matter how hard I try I just don't see the image behind that watermark.

However a Signature, is something very different indeed. I have never seen an art work, out with photography, that is not signed somewhere on the piece, always in an unobtrusive location that does not distract from the art work as a whole. It's a sign that this piece is by that artist and that they are, at that time in their career happy to put their name to a piece of work proudly stating that, that is my work. It's an artistic branding of their work, it makes a statement, it's something that people look for to identify the work as genuinely by that artist. That is what I do with my photography, it maybe that the signature is to large, it certainly has been in the past, but it is a statement that on the day that I published the image I was happy as an artist as to how it looked. Am I happy with all of those images now? No, but the same is probably true of a painter, style evolves over time, it changes so the argument that you can recognise an image as being by a certain photographer will not stand the test of time as they grow and develop. Photography is an art form just like the others and comparison is completely legitimate.

Is it visually offensive to see Salvidore Dali's signature on a painting or Picasso or Renoir or Da Vinci, of course not I doubt you would complain about it if you owned one -assuming you don't ;-). So why is it so offensive to see Happy Snapper ? Happy has signed his/her work to state I'm proud of my photography and this is my image. Explain exactly what it is about that, that you have a problem with?

You don't want to sign your images as being yours, ok that's your choice, but please don't lambaste those who do that is their choice.

Even among top photographers there is no consensus you don't sign your images and that's ok, whereas +RC Concepcion does and that is ok too. Why does this old chestnut get raked up all the time with these awful arguments, lets agree about the huge distracting Watermarks and say that a small signature in the corner of an image is down to personal choice. A simple statement that as a community of photographers we can agree upon, sort of, and we can pass that advice on to new photographers. They can then see that this is the accepted standard that people adhere to.
;-) I am lying to myself when I say I don't like cheesecake, +Trey Ratcliff; secretly, we agree on 100%, then. Thanks for the hat tip!
Thanks +Thomas Hawk . If the watermark is included, then instead of looking into the details of the photograph, we would be distracted by the name. Even though small, the watermark is still a distraction and destroys the beauty of the scene.. +Trey Ratcliff has made it crystal clear on his point.. :-)
I have never seen an art work, out with photography, that is not signed somewhere on the piece, always in an unobtrusive location that does not distract from the art work as a whole.

+Andy Stuart check out William Eggleston's online work, no signatures whatsoever. It's a beautiful thing. Nobody has said this is anything but a personal choice. Trey is not telling anyone what to do. Either am I. We are merely stating what we do. You are inferring too much into this debate.
I'm sure it has been said before (after all there are 311 comments and I am not going to sit here and read them all), but well said. I have had the same philosophy since I started posting images in 1995. I do not have the team, exposure, or brand you have but I have never sweated the small stuff. Thanks for putting it so elegantly Trey.
+Thomas Hawk William Eggleston is a photographer, how does that relate to my quote? No argument his work is stunning, he chose not to add a signature and as I said that's cool, others choose a different path.

"Trey is not telling anyone what to do. Either am I. We are merely stating what we do."

I beg to differ, when you make statements like "I find watermarks and signatures personally offensive as a viewer." you are "Telling" people what to do, in the same way you do/did in your Flickr critique group, when you only comment on the signature completely ignoring the image. +Trey Ratcliff's post at the beginning of this discussion was very clearly a comment on what he does and why, yours on the other hand, probably mine too, was worded in a stronger tone suggesting significantly more than a description of what you do. All I am trying to suggest, in my clumsy heavy handed way (wouldn't it be great if were all like Trey - Mr.Nice guy), is that you and probably some others recognise that a signature placed in the corner of an image is a completely different thing to a watermark slapped across the whole image making it completely impossible to enjoy. While you don't use them there is nothing wrong with it, some photographers charge a premium for them.

It would be great if every photographer was as well known as +Trey Ratcliff, +Scott Jarvie, yourself, etc... but sadly that will never happen so some of us need to advertise / brand our images, or simply consider photography an art form that should, like other art forms, carry the signature of the "Artist".

"You are inferring too much into this debate."
Quite probably. It wouldn't be the first time and I very much doubt it will be the last.
I put a watermark on my stuff mainly because I haven't made any money and I don't want a bottom feeder to make money instead of me . One day things will change for me , when I change it . Until then I'll be happy doing what I do .
The people that can't look at an image because of a watermark isn't going to buy it anyway.
Totally agree with you +Trey Ratcliff. There will always be people to steal your work so it's better to use internet as a great way to diffuse it whereas worrying all the time about whether or not your work will be used illegally.
Awesome picture by the way!
I kind of agree and kind of dont, I cant stand a massive watermark over the middle of pictures even if its at a low opacity. For example some sports photographer that shoot soccer or swimming then upload to their websites for the competitors or media companies to purchase. That is their market and alot of the public just right click and save the image because they forget its not a free photo its the photographers business. It's probably getting tighter now that people can go out and grab a clear photo with their super-zoom camera so the market is harder therefor having dominant watermarks.
As for media sometimes they can be quite ruthless, just grabbing and running because they are in a rush for the next top story to bet the rest of the media, again forgetting its the photographers job, not a free source of imagery. I wouldn't say that happens alot but now and again I wouldn't be surprised.
That was just on the sports/media photographer side of things but thats where some people have taken it as an example and get paranoid that it'll be stolen so they do it over over a lot of their photos. Even for the folio. But this is sharing and socializing, so not many people at all want to see a massive watermark covering the whole picture. Its still a business, your job as a photographer. Personally I'm really average with names and over time I learn them. I go by imagery that I remember, the picture, the logo. So yeah I'll remember the image itself but not always the photographers name so most of the time with a small corner watermarks I then remember who took what. I believe its not just me and a lot of people are like that. Is it really that bad you look away in disgust after seeing the watermark. Its still artwork and your mind gets used to watermarks ignoring them like many things in the world (cant think of an good example haha)....bit like when you look at pull-out posters from surf magazines (depending on how big the logo is though haha) I dont instantly go "nope next theres logo on this one", I put it up if its a sick photo. Yeah and some stand out like my watermark but no biggy for me, I look at others like +MILES HOLDEN but I dont judge...
I take google+ as a business as well as a place to share photos. Hopefully with luck its going to be your internet identify. So there might be some of my photos(watermarked) somewhere else on the web where they've recognized the watermark remembering me. Most people when browsing the web or a magazine just say something along the lines of "dope photo" haha or something a bit more normal "cool photo" then move on. I'd say only photographers or people that take photography as a hobby only ever check out photo credits. So you might have a better chance for people remembering you if its watermarked.

Also to mention a mate starting out photographer was the one who took the photos of the English Rugby captain Mike Tingle and Queens grand daughter Zara Phillips cheating scandal. It was shared personally on facebook and he didn't have that watermarked. It was then stolen and shared between hundreds of media companies which he could have earnt himself a new camera and lens. What went wrong is media not knowing the true source. Some will say he could have had it in the metadata..

Where I'm coming from its still a business and for me I see better value to having watermarks. Maybe if i was worlds best in sports photography and people can put a name to my photos then I don't think I'll have a need to watermark to my shared photos.
Gah I think this discussion could go on for ever. I think I would have gotten side tracked in all that so its time to eat, im hungry.
Good points all, Trey, and I agree and thank you for not using watermarks. I think it's allowed you to prosper while others haven't. I can't fault photographers for using watermarks, but I also can't help but be distracted by them.
I'm with you +Trey Ratcliff on this, watermark on my photo is a no no. On the other hand I'm also okay with those who used watermark. Sometimes they are not watermark but just word, or inspirational quotation, they may look distracting but then not to, we see things differently don't we? oh this's probably out of the topic here :D Anyways, my photographers insisted to used watermark on the pictures we worked in the team especially wedding photography. So I added watermark only on the said photo. Saying, I'm okay with people's choices. Though, I have to say that as a freelance retoucher, the only service I have to decline is removing watermark on a stolen picture. It's true there will always be people to steal our work regardless.
trey, you are my hero! i like the concept of "internet-trust". afterall, "trust" is the very first and most fundamental thing between people.
+Trey Ratcliff I use one. It's discrete but it stays. Reason being is that some people who re-publish my work on the web never put a link or a credit. What use the exposure if no-one knows who took the picture? That's it, plain and simple.

And yes, +Toffee Chan trust is a wonderful thing but would you you leave your camera on the pavement in New York with a notice on it saying 'sure, take a few pics but bring it back when you are done'?

Probably not. I could do that here in Japan and it would come back.... but it doesnt mean I would try it in London.

Trust is fine. But there is stuff that Trey charges money for and he doesnt have that linked to a 'honesty box'. He has it linked to a PayPal gateway.

Allied but not exactly the same topic: Reason I only ever put pics at low-rez and usually max 100pixels wide on the web?

When I did put large ones up [stopped doing it a few years back] they even got republished in print without credit. Again, great exposure to have a double-page spread in the glossy cplur magazine that goes with the weekend edition of Italy's biggest newspaper [La Repubblica] but f***ing useless for me if they dont credit me or - as happened - print underneath the photo 'Copyright: La Repubblica'. One of my Flickr followers found the shot, alerted me and I got them to take it down from their website but they couldn't obviously remove it from the magazine. I got in touch with them but despite pursuing them, they never paid. I put up a page on my website and a pic on Flickr entitled 'La Repubblica are a bunch of fucking thieves' and that got the attention of the Italian blog circuit and became no.4 on the first page of results when you put the name of their paper in Google. They still didnt pay. Flickr couldnt have cared less about the infringement, saying, and I quote: 'If we followed up every copyright violation we'd need a dedicated department for it'. OK, then have a department for it. You are Yahoo for christ's sake. The final irony was that ALL of the media group websites - of the group the Italian newspaper was part of [biggest media group in Italy] - were 'powered by Yahoo'.

Yes, even down to all the stolen photos.
Great points +Trey Ratcliff.

My thoughts as a newbie.

Point 1 - It's a super personal thought. I don't bother about watermarks. For me photograph is more important. Most of the watermarks are beautiful and artistic. If someone doesn't like WATERMARKS on a photograph then there is always a close button at the top right corner.

Point 2 - Hmmmm... It may be true in USA but not in all countries.

Point 3 - Holy! You have a TEAM. When I become a successful/popular professional photographer then I will blindly don't care about watermarks or misuse of my photos. I will freely upload all my work.

Point 4 - Hmmmm... In USA life is easy. Hope every country has these facilities and super strict laws.

Point 5 - Yes, because you have a TEAM to look after fraud and you have a strong Point 4.

Point 6 - Again in USA you can take creative commons into consideration or may be for granted. I need to find out if this helped anyone in my region.

Point 7 - Would love this. I'm waiting :)

Point 8 - Agree!

If some one wants to steal your photographs then photographs with or without watermarks doesn't matter to them. They steal anything. But surely they get irritated with watermarks because they have to photoshop it ;) Let the watermarks prevail and cause trouble to all those who steal photographs on the internet :)
Jeesh, this could be a book!
I hate watermarks - well stated here.
Sage K.
wonderful place
Finally this all is about two questions:

Do watermarks make sense?
My answer: Obviousely not. Due to technical skills on the side of the thief and the opportunities of Photoshop they can easily be removed, because in most cases they are put on non-essential parts of the image. The only sense I can see is to use it as a signature like artists used to do with their paintings for centuries. But then it should be designed in a very decent way.

Are watermarks interfering?
My answer: That depends. I know that many people cannot filter out the "noise". For instance I can perfectly work on a Photoshop image or an Indesign layout with lots of colorful helplines switched on without having trouble to judge actual result. Most people in my company just get crazy about that and feel sidetracked by any elements that do not belong to the image.

Conclusion: I don't use watermarks anymore.
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:

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:
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.
+midori chan I agree with you completely. I know of BIG companies who have stolen photos. There was also an incident when a government agency stole a photo, and would you believe, put the ad featuring the photo in public buses as an awareness program! :-)
+Trey Ratcliff Internet trust etc sound good. But it also stinks when you see your work being used without permissions or credit being given. Maybe when you are that famous (who doesnt know stuckincustoms?), you can afford to be this gracious. :-)
You've got +1527. I think the number can explain something :-)
Simply awesome... Motion blur of the vehicles are great..
Ur photo is so fantastic!!!
+Trey Ratcliff I like the part about "Internet trust." It's something we rarely see, mainly because so many people are driven to the wrong side of the law by excessively strong restrictions. Good to hear that you believe in building "Internet Trust." You allow derivatives of your images, though I doubt that this idea will go well with any photographer.
+Trey Ratcliff Watermarks distract, are ugly and unnecessary. I completely agree. If someone feels that strongly about plastering one on their photo, and it makes them feel better, it's their choice.
Actually after some more thought. I think not putting your name on it goes against sharing more freely. I just had a photo in a post from someone, wanted to share it on FB. But there's no name on it. That means I have to copy not just the photo but the name and link as well. I didn't share it because well, time? If there would be a name on it I would've shared it. It may not win on looks but having the photo + name unified in one object simply rocks, best thing for sharing :)

Thoughts? +Thomas Hawk +Trey Ratcliff +Zero Dean?
#8 - YES! That's my #1.

This is the hardest thing to explain to people that don't "get it".
Question: The price you charge to license your work for commercial purposes is determined by type of usage, no?

Tend to agree with Mindori Chan. Especially on #8:

7-11 has a fixed unit price for Tic-Tacs and they prosecute shoplifters based on who gets caught, not who gets caught AND has deep pockets vs. who is broke.

Plus, once a legit customer purchases breath mints, they own them, and unless they are in to something kinky, the candy is gone once consumed…

Licensing an image means the copyright holder keeps ownership of their work.

The fact that you register CC and allow some people to use your work for free with certain stipulations, but charge others for commercial uses is reasonable and indicates that you are setting a price depending on the type of usage as you see fit.

Do you charge one flat licensing fee for any image regardless of the type of commercial usage? Size of audience? Duration of use?

Any half decent infringement defense lawyer would ask a court to consider if the issue is about infringement or price – at which point you are now on record as saying you go after “easy” (#4) infringement cases, but don’t bother with “bottom feeders” (#8).

All of sudden the issue is no longer about theft, it is now a muddy legal argument about the value of your work and your lawyers time based on how much money the infringer has - many courts would see that as a double standard.

Not to mention paying customers/clients might be pissed off paying a premium price to respectfully use the same image that others are using commercially with out any fee because they have a lower profile and are banking on the fact that they aren’t worth your time perusing.

I feel you on the cost of doing business angle, and the drain on the personal time and energy it takes to find, let alone fight every commercial infringement, but #8 isn’t consistent with your policy in #4 and it provides an infringer with a pretty decent argument that you are discriminating against them only because they have money.

Copyright law includes guidelines for damages, attorney’s fees, the right to prosecute in federal court, file injunctions, etc, etc. It also helps (sometimes required) to demonstrate a history of a consistent registration and enforcement policy.

Registration would do more to protect an image then a watermark, but sadly I’d be willing to bet you are in the minority in terms of photographers who actually register their copyright.

Unfortunately, the divisive debate about whether to register and enforce copyrights usually boils down in to a few groups – “pros” vs. “armatures”, those who do/don’t care if they find someone using their work with out permission, and those who do/don’t bother asking for permission.

I respect anyone’s right to watermark an image or not. Same goes for registering their work or not.

It is respecting those personal/business decisions or not that made this thread so popular.
Thought I would chime in on this. Not much of a writer so please bear with me. I am so happy to see this thread started by a pro like Trey and so many people chiming in. I fight with this everyday. I HATE watermarks and agree what is being said... BUT I do use them. The problem I am seeing is everyone has a camera these days and more and more people are trying to Go Pro. Most of beginners are just happy if someone wants to use an image for free and "get published". This never seem to be a problem in the past but the numbers have gone way up. I normally go by my sales. When they go flat... I start watermarking cause I feel like everyone is stealing my work. If your sales are mostly commercial... you have nothing to worry about as Trey says they are reputable companies and will pay for the image cause they know they have to and they know you can sue them. ( Rumor here in Boulder a guy sued Microsoft and got a 7 figure settlement for them using an image in software - a photographer and film maker) Companies will even download a copy for a markup to get the sale done to show the person in charge of releasing funds for the image. But on that note... Why do all the stock agencies watermark their images? Tons of people still buy them.

If the sales of your images are mostly sold as prints I think you get more images stolen cause some people are just ignorant. If you post things small they can not make prints big so that gives you more control but I hate it sometimes when I see even a friend has printed an image and the print job looks bad and that is what's representing the work. I like to have control on the print quality.

I also do commons license but just on flicker.. I put a sig watermark on the image so that someone might want to buy an image + knows where to go and whose image it is. They ARE to supposed to link back but not always do and it can get picked up from that blog and that blog and so on. My thought is if you are going to use my image for free I should at least get free advertising out of it. I wish I had "a team" to register the images and so on... but I don't... it is extremely hard to have enough time in the day to Shoot, Edit, Keyword and describe, upload to many sites that sell work... then there is marketing and making comments, blogging and social networking... I have idea on how people keep up. I guess that would be another thread streamlining your internet work flow. I look forward to new tracking and software that will take a lot of this work and make it into one.

One more note: If you do "Portrait Work" you have to watermark cause people WILL seal your work, Watermarking keeps them honest and with Facebook, most studios give small watermarked digitals for free and get advertising at the same time plus a link back to their facebook network.

One last thought or question for me is... Do most people that HATE watermarks are they professional photographers looking at other photographers work? Yes I like having my peers approvals but that's not where my sales come from.

Now excuse me while I go remove the watermarks from one of the sites and try right click protection for a while. :-) I hate the way they look but feel I need to keep people honest... I want to have internet trust... I really do... but Asia...they have no respect for copyrights.
+Nono den Tex : As I mentioned in my own post on the subject ( I don't think there is a right or wrong here -- it depends on the situation. Not every situation will benefit a photo that has a watermark -- and not every situation will benefit a photo without one.

There are so many places a photo can go -- a social network, a folder on a computer, a blog, a youtube video/slideshow, a screensaver, a desktop background, a book/album cover, a calendar, a t-shirt, or a physical art gallery.

In some cases a watermark will work for a photographer -- in some cases it won't.

People like +Thomas Hawk don't like watermarks -- and I get it. But when I'm looking at a photograph online, I choose not to let a watermark get in the way of me appreciating a photograph -- it certainly doesn't offend me or make me think any less of the photo (though I may question the particular style & size of a watermark).

Do I think some people have insanely ugly or oversized watermarks? Oh yes - absolutely. Perhaps there should be some discussion about what -- if anything -- could make a watermark "acceptable" in the eyes of those who don't like them.

Ford puts their "watermark" on all their vehicles -- it's old and ugly and doesn't really fit with modern cars. Do I think their vehicles are ugly because of it? No.

My own watermark? -- it is at least 20% larger than I am comfortable with, but as I stated in my own post, I am not my target audience. I specifically made it large enough to be "in your face", but small enough that most viewers won't care. I didn't make my watermark for me or you (if you're a photographer).

With regard to sharing a photo -- getting work seen by many people is nice.

But getting your work shared (with or without a watermark) and seen by tens of thousands of people doesn't guarantee anything. It might gain you additional G+ followers, but what is that worth? (hard to say -- it depends on what you do with it).

Having a ton of followers doesn't put money in your bank account. It doesn't guarantee that anyone will purchase your work or that you'll get paid work because of it.

Obviously it can help -- it creates possibilities that may not have otherwise existed. But until yesterday, I didn't even know Thomas Hawk existed. And I only heard about +Trey Ratcliff a couple weeks ago because he was popular on G+, not because he is a gifted photographer/illustrator (and he most certainly is).

Do I automatically assume they are awesome and can do no wrong because they are popular? No. I judge every person and every piece of work I look at individually and then make up my own mind -- whether they use watermarks or not. ;)
I have sporadically watermarked my images discreetly in one corner or another, but I'm like +Trey Ratcliff in that I don't like having to create two different versions of the image. I am more often than not so excited about how an image turned out that I post it without the watermark anyway. Then I had one of my favorite shots stolen from Flickr (it was watermarked) and they cropped it out, so I figure "what's the point?" If it's not worth the time to do it because they'll just crop it, then what good is it really doing? The watermark isn't going to be on a print either, so you might as well show the world what it looks like if they were to hang it on their wall. I had someone ask on G+ if they could use my image on their blog and I was happy that they asked so I said yes as long as they linked back to me and they did, so all is good. If anything it's a great way to develop new relationships with others.
+Zero Dean This is indeed not about liking, it's just a discussion about watermarks. I like 'em, I got them circled and like to read and see their posts/photos a lot.

I'm also not trying to convert them. I just think it's a bit rough to say watermarking is not cool. I rather have watermarks, it makes me share more.
+Nono den Tex - Sorry if I implied that it was. I may edit that to make it more clear. Nah -- I just removed that line.
This is an interesting discussion. I suppose watermarks are not so important in backing-up authorship when the photo is done using sophisticated HDR and equipment that can be easily seen in the photo's EXIF. For example if someone else says they took the photo and if they are asked out of curiosity if they have lots of their own similar photos with the same EXIF data... it is not as easy as for photos taken with widely used cameras.
Great discussion everyone.

In case my previous comments got buried (!!), you should know that I do respect the opposite opinion. There are valid points there, but I obviously go to my side of the argument. Everything I've read from +midori chan to +Zero Dean are mostly logical, but not enough to sway me.

Money ($$)
Here are some good points -- where the rubber hits the road ($$ money cash) so to speak:
- I've had this policy and philosophy my whole online life, even before I had a team and was profitable.
- Using this approach, we have well over six figures in licensing income
- Small, medium, and large companies see my photos all over the place (sometimes re-shared and not credited by bottom feeders)
- These legit companies can use modern tools like r-click Google Image search to track down the creator of the images.
- When legit companies do take photos without permission, we sue and it is easy (like a recent case with Time)

Let me address this point of "Stealing." Many people above say something to the effect of, "Well I put images up and they are stolen and put on other websites!" Yes yes... this happens to hundreds of thousands of photographers. You are not alone. But, consider the salient question: What are the damages? 99% of the time, there is none. 99% of the time, they are shared on a website that gets 20 visits a month. Who cares? 1% of the time they are shared on a big site, like happened with a photo of my son, which was attached to an inappropriate article on the Huffington Post ( +Arianna Huffington never apologized for that one... no fruitcake for her this Christmas). Anyway, these are the Class 5 rapids you run on the internet!

Remember that legitimate companies will still see your "rogue" copies of your photos. If they are interested, they will be able to track you down still.

Many people also have a good point that having a watermark helps to build their brand. Maybe. But what you are not seeing is all of the non-shares because of the watermark. Many people will not even share a photo with a watermark. I can make a strong case that you don't need a watermark to build a brand. I can name countless of famous photographers that built up a brand without watermarks, so these two things (branding and watermarks) are mutually exclusive.

My Philosophy
The vast majority of humans, as naturally socially creatures, like to give credit. Most people on Earth are good people. Good people give credit and share good content. This is basic human nature. My philosophy on sharing is thusly plugged into this basic human condition.
+Trey Ratcliff I actually have a ton of respect for your philosophy on watermarks -- as I do for +Thomas Hawk. I think it shows integrity (and confidence) and I value that very much.

Just a couple thoughts...

I think we can agree that the majority of photographers out there attempting to make money from their work -- let alone make a living from it -- are not in the same income bracket as those who are already highly successful at it.

I don't think watermarks -- unless they are so big they cover a photo -- have a real impact on stealing. In fact, the images I personally had stolen and used in a popular web template were watermarked. As has been said, it's pretty easy to crop a photo or use a clone tool. So personally, I don't think watermarks do much with regard to people stealing images.

Where I do think watermarks can have in an impact is...

But I agree with you, Trey, we don't see non-shares. But I think we're also talking about this as if every photographer out there has tons of work that tons of people want to share (you are an exception, not the standard). So if most work isn't going to get shared like crazy anyway, why even put a watermark on it -- again, branding -- and creating an impression and a sense of familiarity. But again, it's not a one-size-fits-all solution.

Also, I'd like to point out that many photographers don't even know what is going to get shared a lot and what won't. And almost certainly no one knows the secret to making a specific photo or series of photos go viral.

I wrote about this recently on my facebook page, but there are photos I've taken that I love -- and I've posted them and they've barely gotten a blip. Then there are photos I took out my sunroof without looking -- that I don't even think much of -- that I post and people go nuts over it.

I'm not convinced a watermark is a huge deterrent to most people -- the people who make something go viral. Granted, it is a huge deterrent to +Thomas Hawk -- and that can make a big difference to whether a photo is seen or not -- if he (or you) share something, it will get seen -- and that's awesome. But as I wrote under my own post on the subject -- it might help them gain some G+ followers, but it doesn't put money in people's bank accounts or guarantee they'll get work.

Regarding "I can name countless of famous photographers that built up a brand without watermarks". I don't think that's an entirely valid argument (maybe "valid" isn't the right word -- it's valid, but I don't put much weight in it), and here's why: famous photographers are the exception, not the rule. We can't really apply something that only happens to a limited few people to everyone else.

The fact is, most people are not famous and will not get famous -- it is statistically impossible. :) Most people are just trying to make some money from their photography, let alone make a living from it.

To counter your point, however, I can also name famous photographers who are "famous" not because they didn't watermark their work, but because they happened to be in the right place at the right time and made a connection with a person who made all the difference in their life -- they got a lucky break. I think many famous photographers have actually made a point that it wasn't necessarily their strength at a particular skill that made the difference -- it was a person they met along the way.

It's not that they weren't exceptionally talented, but a large part of becoming famous is luck -- there are many, many, many photographers out there in the world (just like actors, musicians, and athletes) who are exceptionally talented who no one has even heard of.

Thanks for starting such a thought provoking discussion.

I'd also like to point out -- this kind of conflict can be great. Getting people thinking about why they do (or do not) something is a good thing -- as are differences of opinion. Staying in our comfort zone doesn't change anything -- it doesn't push things further in our art, life, or profession. So it's nice to see civil discourse like this with so much input and people riled up about it. :)
+Trey Ratcliff Today I found a beutiful image! I really, really liked it and I wanted to know if this artist had more wonderful pictures... but it was on a site with tons of images from different people.. , no links, no names, you, the ordinary way...
But I found him- directly!
He had signed his picture and by that I could locate him. First to his web site and then on G+ where I ofcourse circled him.

I see really nice photos and illustrations every day, every where and I know that the blogger, or whom ever it is ,did not make those pictures - I belive that in not more than around 5 times out of 100, maybe even lesser, do I see that "credit" or the link to the photographers web site. But ofcourse, I think it is really nice that you share your work ;)
The business of self promotion is huge. Cars have branding, books have author's names on them, famous dead artists have signed their work, tooth paste and cookies have branding etc. I find it interesting that people don't have a problem buying branded products (which is EVERYTHING) yet have a problem when a photographer chooses to have their signature or watermark on an image. I am proud of my work and my name and and can't imagine not taking advantage of the promotion of my work by not putting some sort of signature on it. But then my career and income comes from my fine art sales. I am a fine art photographer who does not saturate the planet with free images as I believe that the more rare something is, the more worth it has. My collectors want something that no one else has. (and so far this philosophy has worked wonders for me)

That being each his own. I don't judge anyone's personal or professional reasons for how they market themselves.
+Thomas Hawk and +Trey Ratcliff Thanks for the conversation you've created here. Awhile back, I was given some advice about watermarking. While I don't always remember to do it, I have also been asked to specifically add a watermark for several events that I cover. When a non-profit organization is receiving hundreds of photos a day for an event, and they have to select 5-10-20 out of the batch, you make it easier for them to give proper attributions to your work.

Mostly, I do agree with +Thomas Hawk because photography is a love and and not my day job. But I have never found it offensive to see a watermark. I enjoy the look and feel of the presentation, and in +Karen Hutton and +Kelli Seeger Kim's work, the poetic background truly adds to what the eye has just devoured.

I'll have to think about how I present my work moving forward, and am appreciative of all the commentary here.
Why not ask Google to provide a secure key technology helps protect the photography posted on G+ and links the photos to the photographer? Perhaps an updated stenography that deals with possible format conversions (eg. jpeg) so that the encoding cannot be lost.
"What are the damages? 99% of the time, there is none." Respectfully disagree - what is your normal fee for a future license of an image that has already been used by someone else for free? And is the issue about theft or damages?

Also, "stealing" is in quotes - does that make it subjective and open to interpretation? If it is Time using your work commercially you file a law suit, if it is smaller company x,y,z exhibiting the same behavior you don't because it isn't worth the time, or it isn't copyright infringement?

Shorter version from earlier post this morning:

The fact that you register CC and allow some people to use your work for free with certain stipulations, but charge others for commercial uses is reasonable and indicates that you are setting a price depending on the type of usage as you see fit.

Any half decent infringement defense lawyer would ask a court to consider if the issue is about infringement or price – at which point you are now on record as saying you go after “easy” (#4) infringement cases, but don’t bother with “bottom feeders” (#8).

All of sudden the issue is no longer about theft, it is now a muddy legal argument about the value of your work and your lawyers time based on how much money the infringer has - many courts would see that as a double standard.

Also, Tic-Tacs compared to copyright infringement is not apples to apples...
+Trey Ratcliff

I have no intention to sway you, I certainly respect your point of view,it is just that I am a person who likes to deal with facts and figures, so I would like to reply to your comments:

1, When you talked about your case with Time is easy, it is ONLY your case, or cases, it does not apply to all cases. For example, the Japanese article I linked earlier talking about a lawsuit involving a photographer suing NHK for using his image, with NHK defending the case very strongly, the photographer needs to appeal in court. And if you search in the internet, there are many cases like this.( and I could send you more links if needed) Some of these lawsuits involved millions of dollars.

2, Your lawsuit would work only because it is a company based in US, what if a company based in Russia? let's say someone took all your photos and use it freely and selling to anywhere in the world, how would you enforce your rights? you would have to go to Russia to file your case...and many times it would not work. Your US laws cannot protect you at all. ..

3, Talking about big companies won't behave in such a way as to infringe on another's copyright/pentent, do you remember the case between Apple and Samsung...

4, You mentioned in your previous post that no big company would do such thing, and now you said you have a case with Time using your you proved me right, big companies do such things..


you mentioned 99%, I assumed that it is based on your assumption...There are companies that take such statistics and do research for government agencies, and I believe their data would indicate a much larger damage than you anticipated. Anyway the percentage is NOT important as long as you could live with it. But just because someone post something in the internet, does it means they must accept the risk of other using it without permission? How about all the video on demand, all the trail versions of software, and those music for itune..because they post in the internet, it does not mean they deserved to be hacked. or do they? if so why the same does not apply to images.

You mentioned that" legitimate companies will still see your "rogue" copies of your photos. If they are interested, they will be able to track you down still."...well apparently Time did not...until you sued them.


Finally as to your last sentence that "Most people on Earth are good people. Good people give credit and share good content" do you know how many copyright lawsuits are pending?
While I can totally respect your point of view, it might be nice if you could also respect that there are many people out there who may think different than you...and it is their arts, and their decision to make, it would also be nice if you could respect them.

Another photographer friend reading this post asked me to add this on his behalf: Theft of photography and the resulting lawsuits can ruin a person's career and damage their lives... how many times does this have to happen before we say "ENOUGH" I hope you don't really believe that its okay for even 1% to suffer like that.
For your consideration:

"Unbeknownst to most, one of Futurist Thomas Frey’s favorite pastimes is collecting amazing photos and writing captions for them. Since he started them, his “Top 10 Photos of the Week” have received over 1 million pageviews, from people in literally in every country on the planet."

Wow -- what a great selection of "top photos". I wonder which ones are going to lead people to their source.. ;)

Of course, if the collector only posts photos without watermarks (I saw at least one), I guess it doesn't matter -- since the work is seen, but no one ever knows who created it. So maybe the lack of a watermark does encouraging sharing, +Trey Ratcliff ... but if you're a photographer looking to make a name for yourself, what is the benefit of people sharing your work if they have no idea who took it?

Here's a case where it may just be that the only person benefiting from these photos/illustrations (other than those viewers who are inspired by it) is the person collecting these photos and getting "over one million site views" (his words) as a result.

And I see lots of strange advertising on his site -- I'm not sure if he is actually making money by collecting and sharing other peoples work, but he is certainly getting exposure.
I agree with +Lena Björndahl. If 95% of the shares are without signage your photo is hard to trace (if the G image search doesn't work and how many people know this is possible lol..).

If 7-11 would have 95% leakage on the tic tacs it would not sell them anymore.

If you search for Trey's Taj Mahal in India photo through the image search of G, I get 20,000 results. I clicked randomly on 5 links on different result pages. Not a single had a link to or any reference to Trey Ratcliff.

I'm not a photographer btw, just a "sharer". And as a sharer I like photos best if they have a sign. Saves me loads of time sharing it.
Some people like to see their name printed on everything. For me- it only distracts.
+Nicolas Doak Sony? Canon? Nikon? Apple? Ford? Chevrolet? Intel? IBM? Picasso? Monet? Stephen King? NBC? CBS? CNN?

I wonder if everyone who is against watermarks who sees a gorgeous photo with a Sony logo on it immediately hates it.

What do you do first when you view the photos below -- read the text or look at the photos? Doesn't matter -- it's an impression either way.

If companies truly felt that adding their logo and text to an image would ruin it for everyone, they wouldn't spend so much time finding or designing just the right images to add their logos to.

Sony called, they want to use one of your photos. They will pay you for it, but they're going to slap their logo on it -- how do you feel about that? Are you not going to share that ad with your friends because your work has been completely ruined by a watermark?

Why is it that sometimes adding a well known logo to an image actually makes it look better in people's eyes -- but adding a watermark? Blasphemy!
Zero Dean, Nono den Tex, Midori Chan: though not commercial, are these unattributed uses you guys found considered copyright infringements in light of Trey's CC Copyright terms and the fact there are no links back?

I doubt he would file any lawsuits against these individuals – first they probably don’t have as much money as Time Inc., and also based on his earlier posts re: "stealing"

"Yes yes... this happens to hundreds of thousands of photographers. You are not alone. But, consider the salient question: What are the damages? 99% of the time, there is none. 99% of the time, they are shared on a website that gets 20 visits a month. Who cares? 1% of the time they are shared on a big site, like happened with a photo of my son, which was attached to an inappropriate article on the Huffington Post ( +Arianna Huffington never apologized for that one... no fruitcake for her this Christmas). Anyway, these are the Class 5 rapids you run on the internet!"

With a “who cares" attitude for sites with only 20 visits, I am curious what approach he will take with the guy who is getting 1,000,000 visits/week using Trey's work w/o attribution. Tic-Tacs I guess...

On the other hand, that is 1,000,000 more people seeing his work and he has been open and honest that visibility is his business strategy because the trade off is worth it.

According to Wikipedia, this is less then 1/3 of Time Magazine’s circulation. But what happens if a magazine with less than a million circulation uses an image, gets sued, and wants an explaination from Trey why this guy was never sued for violating the exact same copyright policy?

“What are the damages? 99% of the time, there is none.” Not exactly the settlement negotiation strategy I’d want in bringing a law suit.

Bottom line, as long as he is getting the added exposure he wants and he considers it beneficial to increase the size of his audience, I say to each his own - it’s all good.

For myself, sorry Faulkers, if Trey himself says this is happening to "HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF PHOTOGRAPHERS", plus people are posting multiple examples this afternoon of other's using Trey's work in violation of his own CC copyright policy, I have some concerns about the internet circle of trust method.
I REALLY wish more digital product providers would come to these logical conclusions and quit making every-ones life more difficult (and wasting money) with pointless DRM that can be defeated by any 15 year old who has Google access. Thanks for being so level-headed AND sharing your work Trey.
Man this is an awesome conversation! I just asked this question on my feed a few days ago because I truly didn't understand the anti-watermark view...and of course I got less than a tenth of the replies! I'm glad to see this posted by someone so popular so I can read the opinions of so many... So, Thanks!

I'm so torn on the topic. I want to not watermark... I want to trust, and not "ruin" my images... but I started out selling event photos from bike races, and the racers would much rather download and print or share for free rather than pay - and since they were the only people buying or not buying I felt I needed to protect my images - and add that touch of marketing (although I do read here that it can be seen as negative marketing too). Right now my market isn't a commercial license, and so it's hard to swallow the argument that essentially says that your commercial licensing income more than makes up for the "loss" due to private use... But when private use IS your market, to give that away seems foolish. That's what I'm having a hard time reconciling in my head... To you it makes little difference if someone downloads a pic of yours and prints it out 8x10, buys a frame at IKEA and hangs it on their wall, but that would be my biggest photography achievement to date - and to not get paid for that feels wrong.

Maybe I'm totally looking at it backwards and just need to re-read all these comments again... It really makes you think about the business approach you want to have towards photography.
May I suggest you use Watermarks? You can't guarantee your work won't be wrongly plagiarized, and I'm sure common-sense users who credit you wouldn't complain.
Until very recently I was using both watermarks, and a signature on all my images as well as reducing the size of the posted image. After listening to +Trey Ratcliff 's google speech, and reading his and +Thomas Hawk 's ideas on the subject I have eliminated both from my images and begun posting full size versions under creative commons. I never liked the look of the watermarks and logos, but I felt it was necessary to keep my work "safe" . I just realized in listening while listening to Trey and Thomas that I'm not making money on the images anyway and having an ugly "theft proof" version on the web won't change that.
In regards to the tone of the comments, I appreciate both +Trey Ratcliff and +Thomas Hawk for their honesty with the world. No matter what they say you know it is exactly what they are really thinking, which is a nice change from all the "How can I look the best".
this looks AMAZING..............!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Michael Richarson aka Rainabba – According to Trey, for the past six years, he has filed all of his work with the U.S. Library of Congress Copyright office as Creative Commons. His policy is that people can use his work for non-commercial purposes for free, but only if they give attribution and a link back to his website. If it is a commercial use, unless they pay him for a license in advance (which is how he earns his six figure salry), he files law suits for infringement to protect his copyright.

In other words, he is producing a digital product and managing the rights to how it is used/sold.

Please elaborate how it is a logical conclusion that he is making your and everyone's life more difficult with a pointless DRM policy?

Beyond that, since when did the behavior of (15) year olds become the standard we all should follow in business? They have access to lots of things, that doesn’t mean they have a right to use Trey’s work outside his CC Copyright terms. (I.E. Napster)

Also, Trey points out that even non-fifteen year olds (such as Time Inc, and The Huffington Post) have violated his CC Copyright terms in the past. In the case of Time Inc., he filed a lawsuit against them.

According to Trey, he is also not in the minority as “hundreds of thousands” of photographers have their work stolen all the time. That number is large enough to make me wonder who is making everyone’s life more difficult: Artist’s like Trey who are trying to share AND sell their work to earn a living, or the people using Trey’s work with out attribution or any commercial license?
Great discussion. My 2 cents: I see a lot of use of the words theft and stealing related to these situations and I think it's very misleading, because nothing has actually been stolen. A better use of words would be that “hundreds of thousands” of photographers have their work copied all the time.
+Trey Ratcliff I thought I'd point out there is already a Chrome extension that brings right-click image search capability today. Go to the chrome store and search for "image search" and you'll find it there. It's an official Google extension. Works sooo nice!
so not to beat on a dead horse, but I put a poll up on the subject that might give people more insight into how the general community feels about watermarks/signatures/logos/etc. feel free to vote if you want.
I absolutely love point 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."

So many people ask me how and why I am ok with being all over the place on the internet (with my photography) because there is so much paranoia about people 'stealing'. I love how you put this because it's a perfect answer really.
+Tom Kelley: I think this is a really important consideration. Those of us who take photos that are primarily of interest to the people in them have stronger reasons to protect our work from casual use. My main recurring gig is photographing students at a music school's concert performances, and most just want to share the photos on Facebook, not order prints. In order to make some money from that, I need to provide some incentive for the students to order the photos rather than just screenshot them and put them up as-is. If I put them up full-res with no watermarks I'd likely never make another sale.
Dave Owens – mind-boggling.

Why has Trey had these policies for the past six years?
Why does he bother registering his work?
Why has he successfully filed “easy” lawsuits against infringers?

Also he equates “bottom feeders” violating his terms to convenience store breath mint shoplifters (see #8).

Is shoplifting a misleading use of the word theft or copying?

Does The Huffington Post have more or less than 20 site visitors?

You have read Trey’s policies, yes:

“As you may know, my work is all Creative Commons Non-Commercial. That means people, as long as they give credit and link back to , can use my images on their blogs, wallpaper, personal use – anything – as long as it is not used commercially.”

Or this part:

“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.”
+Jamie Smith I agree with Trey's policies, they make a lot of sense- except for #8.

I did not make any statement about the correctness(or not) of copying/infringement, only that in my opinion the use of the word theft or stealing is incorrect. Theft occurs when something is taken which deprives the original owner of its use.

When you say- Is shoplifting a misleading use of the word theft or copying? Shoplifting is theft- the owners of the store no longer have the item to sell. This is not the case if someone copies an image from a website, photocopies a document, or records a TV show. Would you consider someone who has forged a painting to have stolen the original?

As Trey himself earlier on the in the comments, with respect to "stealing" What are the damages? 99% of the time, there is none.

While I don't agree with the term stealing, I really like Trey's attitude on this... And being a non-photographer, I also like having a small logo in a corner of the image to help me to find more info on the artist. Well, I guess that's something else I don't agree with him on :).
I'm a graphic designer first, writer second and photographer third and I find watermarks nauseating.
Dave - read Trey's policy #4 (which you say you agree with). If you use his work commercially with out a license he takes you to court and proves that you just compromised his ability to sell the work to someone else since you used it for free. Hence his successful law suits - or maybe Trey will pop back on this tread and explain that Time was forced to pay him because...

What is the deprived value of an image (how much can you charge someone to license it) that has already been used commercially for free.

"Theft occurs when something is taken which deprives the original owner of its use."

This is the type of logic that concerns many photographers, writers, musicians, cartoonists, painters, artists, graphic designers, software developers, etc, etc. "Hey it doesn't cost you anything if I don't pay you for your work, it isn't like I'm stealing it!"

Watermarking and copyright registration is a personal/business decision, but since you're at least in favor of the first, you might be glad to know that anyone messing with your watermark is also violating the DMCA.

I got a chuckle out of the notion that Thomas Hawk is taking a poll about watermarks and logos considering he bounces people like you for using water marks - after all, isn't Trey's image above in probably one of the most branded and logo rich places in the world:

Marriott, Kodak, Bank of America, American Eagle Outfitters, HSBC, Samsung, Coca-Cola, Corona, McDonald's, Maxwell, etc - yet all the water mark/logo haters love the image - it's a crazy world.
+Brian Hoffsis "I'm a graphic designer first, writer second and photographer third and I find watermarks nauseating."

I am a graphic designer and a photographer, too -- and we are not our target audience.

Marketing Rule: Think like a client/customer.

So has every magazine -- or advertisement in a magazine -- or book in existence that features a photograph with text on it also made you sick because it covered up a photo (which in most cases was probably decent looking -- possibly amazing)?

Probably not. So it's ok for companies to put their name or text on a photo, but man, we should definitely forbid photographers from putting their name on their work ever.

Most of the world, the bulk of people who purchase, view, or share photos online are not graphic designers or photographers. Most people reaaaaaaally don't care about watermarks one way or another. They just like pretty pictures -- which I go to more length to explain in my own post on the subject (also lost in the comments above):

However -- there are people with influence who may NOT like watermarks -- and if they don't share awesome photography or highlight gifted photographers because their work has their name on it... well... that's their call.

And that work that they DO share without names on it -- people will surely like the photos, but they almost certainly won't remember who took it the moment it is detached from any kind of post that indicates who took it.

Additionally, other people running "top photography" type websites will be grateful for the extra room to add their website address to the photo -- so that when other people download it, they'll know where to get more.
+Jamie Smith I think it's crazy, too. And also odd that the only solution for watermark haters (those who want to "vomit" or "grow nauseous" at seeing someone sign their work) is: "no watermark".

There is no compromise or talk of compromise or possible solutions for those who say they get sick at seeing watermarks.

I mean, what about standardizing their size, font, or opacity. No "30% opacity watermark that is only 8 pixels high in the corner of an image" suggestions. :)

If I see an awesome photograph, I'm going to share it whether it has a watermark on it or not -- but I also don't have 300,000 followers, so I guess I don't carry much weight in this argument. ;)

I must be one of the lucky ones who doesn't get sick at seeing watermarks, whether I like them or not. I'm actually able to focus my attention on the photograph. I don't know... maybe only a certain percentage of people can do that.
thank you =0) I love using your photos as backgrounds on my computer, phone, and screen savers. The fact your not marking up your art with water marks only makes me want to give you credit even more. Love your points you make. thanks again. =0)
+Zero Dean I am also a graphic designer, and I have produced many graphics with the client's logo on it for different usages..and I don't think our audience feel nauseated looking at the images, in fact, some of these are very popular "products" "events". so I think, "actions speak louder than words"...perhaps, some designer have never really worked with clients and think only of themselves.

+James Harris as to "Hey it doesn't cost you anything if I don't pay you for your work, it isn't like I'm stealing it!" from my work experience I can say this, If you use a copyrighted material for any purpose anywhere without the permission of the copyright holder, you would be liable for criminal charges and prosecution. And there are cases like this already, perhaps some people are not aware of it.

What I cannot understand most in this whole discussion is that why is it so hard to respect people who may have a different view point than our own? Even if we personally don't like something, do we have to impose our views on others or even insult another person work just because they are different from us? If you don't like it, simply don't look and don't comment on their work, so you won't feel sick... after all, respect to those who are different from us and humility is what a great man is made of.
Sean G
Great Pic! Man +Trey Ratcliff your fan base is blowing UP! not surprising... G+
Sean G
Also, Your whole approach to photography I love... Inspiring! "Every day, I upload a HUGE 6000+ pixel max-resolution image to the Internet. I do not have any fear at all… Believe me, it’s quite liberating living in a world without internet-stealth-fear."
This approach imo is what make you great! Show you do it for the Love of your Work. The rest will follow. & you tic-tac story sums it up. enuff said. Thanks for being so open to learn from. It will return in good karma. which im sure it already has (:
+Scott Frederick if some people care more about watermarks than your photography, you probably don't care if they're in your circles anyway :)
Excellent discussion all around.

+Trey Ratcliff This thread is a great read really getting me to think a bit about opinions and copyright issues and the watermark/logo branding issue. The hardest part for me right now is struggling to find the fee for the copyright office, I'll keep posting anyway until I can afford the fee, but it does worry me not to have full recourse.

+Magnus Bjerke Vik I think your watermark is what I am thinking of doing. If you hadn't told me it was there, I wouldn't even have noticed it without looking for it. I really don't want to see something that distracts from the overall visual. I can't stand pictures that have the logo stamp in large letters or a watermark that crosses the entire image. Often, all I see is the writing, not the picture.

+Thomas Hawk To those people angry that you stopped following them. I don't think they understand G+. I circle people because they interest me. It's nice if they follow me back and feed into my ego, but I really don't think that should be the point.
Ken Rathke – Trey and Thomas Hawk have many things in common - each has over 300,000 followers on Google Plus. Whether their profile or views in this conversation makes them your hero or leader is 100% your call. Both Rush Limbaugh and The Jersey Shore have large audiences, and popularity is not always the only indicator.

What are rather humorous are the inconsistencies between Ratcliff and Hawk that neither really seems to fully resolve. Trey has moved on to other discussions with out ever really addressing some of the obvious inconsistencies in his philosophy/copyright policy, and Hawk is now taking a poll about the use of watermarks, logos, and signatures. (For an extra laugh, keep in mind this all started with Trey’s post accompanied by his photo from Times Square – an image that is filled with trademarked logos.) “Trey, I hate watermarks, signatures, and logos, love the pic of all the logos in Times Square!”

With respect to your © question – yes you own it at the point of capture. However, if you register your work BEFORE an infringement, under the U.S. Constitution, the law provides many helpful benefits. And basically, if it isn’t registered, the infringer’s lawyer knows the law of averages is that a.) they won’t be caught, b.) most photographers can’t afford a lawyer, c.) some photogs will get bad legal advice and try to argue only damages instead of the act of infringement, d.) lots of “leaders” in the photography community are doing everyone a disservice by being apathetic about having their work stolen because they believe it is a good marketing strategy to have their work seen in violation of their own copyright policy and then apply a double standard where by they occasionally enforce it by going after people/companies, but only those with deep pockets.

Trey provides some statistical data about infringements and estimates the number of photographers having their work stolen is in the hundreds of thousands – he provides no source, but coincidentally all the percentages he provides about theft are three figures: 0, 99%, and 1%. Hard to argue with those kind of numbers…

Think of it this way:

As a stockbroker, Hawk does not earn his primary income thru photography and he doesn’t register his work or concern himself with infringement.

Trey says he earns six figures licensing his work each year and he registers everything Creative Commons which brings in “extra” income by filling what he called “easy” lawsuits against (some) infringers who cost his business substantial licensing fees by using the work commercially (the “bottom feeders”, he says steal, but are considered the cost of doing business on the internet). The real catch 22 is if all he cares about are the “99%” legit companies that go out of their way to license from him, why bother registering? Why has he sued some of the other “1%” companies like Time? Why isn’t he hoping his career gets more attention reputable/un-reputable outlets like The Huffington Post inappropriately use a photo of his with out permission?

Since you’ve read all of the comments on this post (I HIGHLY recommend everyone does as well), bellow are some highlights that are amusing – keep in mind, these are all taken out of the same discussion, but they are totally out of context with both Trey and Hawk (who say they are 100% in agreement) responding to other people (not each other) about the same issues…

(Scott Fredrick – you’ll love #7, apparently Hawk doesn’t even agree with himself, and #15 is a real classic.)

1.) Thomas Hawk and I are in full agreement here :)
- Trey R.

2.) Of course I agree with your [Trey R.] thinking here 100%. I find watermarks and signatures personally offensive as a viewer. It's like someone is assuming you are a thief -- even someone you may have a good relationship with. That's bad for sharing. As a consumer of photography on the web, I have a hard time following people who watermark their work. They are ugly and distracting and as an artist one of the things that I strive for personally is to make the world a more beautiful place. I took some heat the other day when I'd removed some of the people I follow on G+ because of their ugly watermarking.
-Thomas Hawk

3.) And yes, you can probably detect that I still have respect for people that use watermarks... I'm just giving you the reasons that I don't :) Like even +RC Concepcion uses a little watermark down in the corner... his is pretty classy looking...
Trey R.

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.
Trey R.

5.) I do not register my images at all. I'm not as concerned with going after infringement.
-Thomas Hawk

6.) As for on-the-internet, I would not mind as long as I did not even notice the sig. But, this is me... and, I am quite logically inconsistent about it because I quite like seeing "Monet" signed in the lower right of his paintings!
Trey R.

7.) We should not be comparing photographs to paintings. We should be comparing photographs to photographs if you want to make a fine art analogy… Even in the rare cases where it's on the photograph, it's done by hand giving each signature a unique and interesting quality (closer to a painter signing work) rather than a mass produced watermark.
- Thomas Hawk

8.) I'm not worried about prints -- we sell limited edition prints and whatnot. I know our quality is great... if people want to download and print themselves -- I'm not gonna throw a fit.
-Trey R.

9.) Legitimate companies do not steal images to use commercially. So I don’t have any logical fear there.
-Trey R.

10.) Yes - there are a few (less than 1%) of legit companies that steal images.
-Trey R.

11.) I've never watermarked any of my images ever.
More importantly I'm not telling anyone else what to do and neither is Trey here. I'm simply saying that I don't use them and choose largely not to consume photos by folks who do. Anyone can do whatever they want with their photos.
- Thomas Hawk

12.) I respect your opinion. You may end up coming around some day... I don't think it matters if you are a "big name" or not --- I'm really not. I'm only known to a small subset of people, but it has been my policy for the last 6 years. And I know that the watermark was the old way of figuring out who took the photo -- but now you can so easily r-click and image and find out. I think most serious buyers could track you down if they wanted to.
- Trey R.

13.) I think it is a good policy for all kinds of photography. I admit that I don't really understand wedding photography, but I do believe it is a business where most many clients are generated by word-of-mouth. That is, a personal recommendation means a lot more than a watermark. And then, when people share the image, again, I think many people can't help but think about that big cursive sig stamped in the corner. Another reason, I believe, some wedding photographers put a big stamp down there is so that their clients can't print their own copies. This seems like a breakdown in the client-photographer relationship to me. It also feels like an old, untrusting way of doing business. But, again, I'm not in that industry.
-Trey R.

14.) this is especially important information for you. You of all people should think carefully about this.
-Thomas Hawk

15.) Nobody has said this is anything but a personal choice. Trey is not telling anyone what to do. Either am I. We are merely stating what we do. You are inferring too much into this debate.
-Thomas Hawk

16.) "Stealing"
Let me address this point of "Stealing." Many people above say something to the effect of, "Well I put images up and they are stolen and put on other websites!" Yes yes... this happens to hundreds of thousands of photographers. You are not alone. But, consider the salient question: What are the damages? 99% of the time, there is none. 99% of the time, they are shared on a website that gets 20 visits a month. Who cares? 1% of the time they are shared on a big site, like happened with a photo of my son, which was attached to an inappropriate article on the Huffington Post ( +Arianna Huffington never apologized for that one... no fruitcake for her this Christmas). Anyway, these are the Class 5 rapids you run on the internet
-Trey R.

17.) Remember that legitimate companies will still see your "rogue" copies of your photos. If they are interested, they will be able to track you down still.
-Trey R.

18.) so not to beat on a dead horse, but I put a poll up on the subject that might give people more insight into how the general community feels about watermarks/signatures/logos/etc
-Thomas Hawk

Well said gentleman, I agree 110% x hundreds of millions!
+Doug Griffin I've always said that I don't care what people do. Everybody's work is their own. People can do whatever they want with their work. They can watermark, they can not watermark.

And similarly I can do whatever I want. That's one of the beautiful things about G+, everyone can customize their own experience however they want with circles -- if people are especially offensive you can even block them and not have to read what they write at all anywhere anymore -- even in this thread. :) You can turn people completely invisible by just blocking them. Anyways.

It is disappointing to see so many people who feel like I should be forced to follow them in my circles. The insults, etc. are disappointing. I should be able to follow whomever I want for whatever reason I want. Instead people feel that they have some "photographer's right" to be in my circle or that I have some obligation to follow their work and get all bitter if I choose not to. Geez.

If I were a vegan it would be like a steakhouse complaining because they weren't in my "restaurants I love circle." That's too bad. I guess some people don't understand the idea of personal choice.
+Joseph Kreydatus personal taste is a personal thing. If you don't like the color green, or rap music, or sports photography, or the band Nickelback, or reality TV shows, or watermarks, whatever. To each their own.

How about you do your thing and I do mine?
+Joseph Kreydatus because I find them distracting. Like Trey, when I see a watermarked photo my eyes go right to the watermark, I focus on it. Most of them look ugly to me. I've got a sort of obsessive personality in the first place and I don't like obsessing about watermarks when I focus on them. It's a negative to me, a downer. It detracts from the beauty of the underlying photography.

I view sharing photos as a personal thing as you and I sharing photos back and forth. I publish mine and share them with you, you publish yours and share them with me. Back and forth, back and forth, we interact, +1, comment, etc. that's what I like to do.

When I see a watermark I feel like someone's saying, yes, you're sharing with me, but I'm going to treat you like a thief and put this watermark here to detract from your experience so that you don't steal my photo. It detracts from the personal back and forth for me. It turns something warm and personal and engaging for me into something impersonal and unattractive.

I get very particular about these things -- aesthetics matter to me -- for a long time I used black electrical tape to completely block off the Canon logos everywhere on my cameras and lenses because I didn't like seeing them. I replaced my Canon strap with a pure black one. I used a black permanent marker to mark off the red lines on my lenses.

Rather than be upset by the fact that I don't like watermarks (I'm hardly unique here by the way, more than 50% of the people out there dislike them, at least according to my rudimentary poll), how about we just chalk it up to personal taste?

Why ask questions like "does it make you a better photographer?" Of course it doesn't.

Why are you so offended that I (and the majority of people on the planet) dislike them? Why try to force an aesthetic on people that don't want it forced on them?
+Joseph Kreydatus because most of the time it doesn't feel like a personal pride thing to me. It feels like a security (false security) thing or it feels like an advertising/branding thing to me. Both of which I find distasteful aesthetically. If I already follow someone's work, why the need to advertise at me? Again with the impersonality.

It's the same reason why I'd rather rent Mad Men from Netflix and watch it without all of the AMC logos (a branding thing not a personal pride thing) that are branded all over it when I have to watch it on TV. So over time I've just developed an aversion to most watermarking -- I guess you could say blame the worst ugliest offenders for creating this aversion inside of me. I've browsed photography online for a long, long, time. I've favorited over 100,000 photos on flickr over the past 7 years. After all the hours I've spent seeing bad watermarks it probably just has developed into a more general aversion.

If it's a personal pride thing for you, great, go for it. Use them to your hearts content. It's YOUR photo. YOU do what you want with it. A lot of people don't like my out of focus photographs. I don't care. They are my photos. I do my thing, they do theirs. I don't try to force them into submission to like out of focus photography -- or complain if I'm not in their circles.

Taste is a subjective thing. To thine own self be true is what I say.
Joseph Kreydatus - if your are spending your time trying to rationalize Thomas Hawk's argument(s) about how he wants everyone to use William Eggelston as the gold standard here is something to consider:

On the homepage of The William Eggleston Artistic Trust, there is an image with no watermark. In fact there is no text except his name AND ONLY this one sentence/copyright policy, and it reads:

“Official website of William Eggleston and the Eggleston Artistic Trust.
All images © Eggleston Artist Trust. All rights reserved.”

William Eggleston has published a lot of books – does anyone know how Szarkowski, or MoMA, or the Whitney, or any of the people/orgainzations mentioned in the pages and pages of exhibitions, publications, and collections have treated Eggelston's copyrights?

According to the ‘About’ section of his website:

“The Trust was founded in 1992. It is an organization dedicated to the representation and preservation of the work of William Eggleston.

The director of the Eggleston Artistic Trust is Winston Eggleston.”
+Thomas Hawk and +Joseph Kreydatus Well - now we are getting somewhere.
I sad in an earlier discussion (or earlier here, hehe) that the people that do not like watermarks/signs belive they are members of some private club or something similar. But this is the internet and people share not only to you, Thomas, they share with thousands of people, on and on the sharing goes.
As I also said earlier, top photogs like you Thomas, sign every single one of your photos - with your style!
That is what makes you great! You do sign already, Thomas - just like Jimi Hendrix with his special way of touching the strings, you can directly distinguise between him or an ordinary musician on the radio!
And that is why ordinary photogs must sign/watermark, few are those that will reach the top! (But still, they are the photogs that sell most of the images in the world....) So, sign/watermark the copy you share on line, it is not a small club!
But of course, if it doesn't matter to the artist - then don't sign. (Sorry for my mistakes in the English language)
So, sign/watermark the copy you share on line, it is not a small club!
But of course, if it doesn't matter to the artist - then don't sign

exactly. +Lena Björndahl -- everybody should just do whatever they want. Everybody should just do whatever they feel like. Watermark your photos, don't watermark your photos, choose to exclude watermarked photos from your circles, leave them in. Whatever people want to do they should do. If people think their watermark makes their photo more awesomer, then by all means, put it on there, maybe even make it bigger in fact or do it in an even more brash font like Helvetica, maybe bold it up or something even.

If people, like me choose to ignore these photographs, that's fine too. We all get to make our choices about how we share work and how we consume photography on the web. It's choice that makes the world a more beautiful place.
Or the copyright policy of Robert Frank, or Avedon, or any of the other photographers that Hawk mentioned...

OK, they didn't sign, but did they register their work? Does Hawk register his work?

It only took three days, but warning to everyone out there who might be depending on Thomas Hawk for guidance and leadership - not only could he block you for using watermarks, I guess quoting him and asking him to explain his pontifications is also a touchy subject.
Still a good discussion... thanks all.

I notice that +Scott Kelby is the same as +Thomas Hawk and I -- he doesn't watermark either. Just like me, he registers his images with the copyright office. If a legit company steals the photo, then it is indeed an easy lawsuit.

Now, I don't find watermarks "offensive" maybe as much as Thomas does. But do find them annoying -- because my eye is drawn there immediately and while I am trying to enjoy the photo. This may very well be a peccadillo in my own mind.

Last, let me reiterate that the watermark does not protect you -- registering with the copyright office protects you. Well, it protects you insofar as you can sue for damages if there is indeed an offense.
Thanks Trey - is using your work non-commercially and not linking back a violation of your CC Terms? I know it is often exhausting to track down, everyone, but is it stealing or copying?

Seems there are some people in the discussion who have questions about the difference.

Also, the whole bottom feeder thing - is that teft, or acceptable to copy and use your work commercially on a small scale?

How do you typically deal with people violating your CC Terms with non-commerical uses?

Where can I reference the figures you use for the % of minor theft vs. big infringements?

Also, the "hundreds of thousands" of photographers who you noted getting their work stolen - is this a problem anyone should be concerned about?
+Thomas Hawk I am totally and fully agree with you about the circle discussion! That is also each individual persons choice and I am really surprised over the fact that it lead to a discussion at all!
I belive it might have something to do with a hope that fame might spill over to the ones been circled.. when maybe we should be spending more time improving our photo skills instead :)
But out of curiosity, have you never thought about the composition signing - works the same way for painters, that is what a connoisseur do. :)
Lena - would it have been part of the discussion if Thomas hadn't brought it up again in Tery's post about watermarks? Incidentally, lots of us (Trey included) have been saying, there is nothing wrong with having the choice to put someone in a circle or not, watermark or not, even registering copyright or not.

And yes, Thomas has thought about your question - in fact here is what he said earlier in the thread about signing a photo as it relates to signing a painting:

"We should not be comparing photographs to paintings. We should be comparing photographs to photographs if you want to make a fine art analogy… Even in the rare cases where it's on the photograph, it's done by hand giving each signature a unique and interesting quality (closer to a painter signing work) rather than a mass produced watermark.
- Thomas Hawk"
+Lena Björndahl signatures on paintings are usually FAR less distracting than watermarks on photos. I've taken photographs of thousands of paintings, and they're never done in 24 point Helveteca. You hardly ever even notice the signatures. In part it's because most painters are more subtle than most photographers who watermark their stuff I think. Also painters frequently use organic material (paint) that blends in with their work in such a way that hides it better. They typically keep them very small and out of the way. Alot of the time they don't sign the face of the work at all. Do you see Andy Warhol's signature on these paintings of his?

If somebody hides their signature well enough that there's no way that i will see it typically I'm fine with those photographs. Like if someone puts it in 2pt. font with 1% opacity so that it's invisible and hides it in some obscure place that no one will ever see, that's probably ok. Then it's like it's not even there and looks way better than the way most people do it.

But also photographs are not paintings to me. And the signing convention for fine art photographs has largely NOT been maring up the face of the photograph. Most fine art photographers will sign a photograph on the back (where nobody can see it) if they sign it at all. Sometimes they'll sign the mat, but very very rarely the actual face of the photograph.

Eggleston, Ansel Adams, Richard Avedon, Robert Frank, etc. These people are not watermarking their photos with 24 point Helvetica Bold font watermarks -- whereas watermarkers/logos/sigs always seem to be on the face of the photograph itself.
Oil painters, like Renoir, use their medium for their art, and their signing in the very oil itself is wonderful. It is part of the art; it is part of the medium; it is organic.

So there is a truth in there-- a certain shape of the truth. It doesn't translate into photography for some reason. However, for my Artist Proof series ($2k+), I do individually sign each one. In this situation, it makes sense to me.
So if people pay for photos then it's OK to sign? It doesn't distract anymore?

I don't understand why it's OK to sign when it's something you can not share (paintings and your artist proof series) and it's distracting when you can share (digital photos)..
+Jamie Smith +Thomas Hawk +Trey Ratcliff I was not talking about the written signatur - I talked about the signature you, as a top photog, create when you compose the picture and the final product, the colours and everything. I first wrote "You do sign already, Thomas - just like Jimi Hendrix with his special way of touching the strings, you can directly distinguise between him or an ordinary musician on the radio! " The next post was a reminder to this but I know there is a lot of posts to read ;)
I know you all know what I mean - a connoisseur do not check for the sign, she knows by the glimps who the artist is - painting, photography and music - that is the signature ;)
+Lena Björndahl I agree, I'd rather let my work stand on it's own. I don't need a signature advertisement/commercial to point out to people that it's mine.
+Thomas Hawk Exactly - but few, same as with great musicians and painters, have that skill, very few own the ability and that is why they need or should sign/watermark.
Thank you all for a great discussion !
sigh of relief ...
now i don't have to waste time making a water mark... thanks!
Joseph – apologies, I could/should have worded it better. In a nut shell, I agree with you that Hawk's points are silly and difficult to understand.

I agree with you that his assertion that it is “personally offensive” to a viewer to use watermarks, or that those using them are accusing him of theft is bizarre – perhaps this explains why he never really gives you any clear answers (he doesn't have one).

It also looks like you might have had a few exchanges with him since this afternoon, but Thomas chose to block me from reading his comments so I’m not sure what else to say…

As far as his other references – he name dropped William Eggleston as an example to try and make some point that since HE doesn't use signatures, no one should. Signatures came up in Trey’s post as people were discussing watermarks, logos, copyrights and that led to comments about and signatures.

To make his argument Hawk wrote:
“We should not be comparing photographs to paintings. We should be comparing photographs to photographs if you want to make a fine art analogy… [Eggelston, Eggleston, Eggleston]... Even in the rare cases where it's on the photograph, it's done by hand giving each signature a unique and interesting quality (closer to a painter signing work) rather than a mass produced watermark.”

Forget that he is TELLING everyone what they should/shouldn’t discuss (yes sir, master Hawk, sir!), and notice that he ends up comparing a signature on a photograph to a painter signing work. It is like two different people wrote each sentence. Between all of that was a bunch of stuff about how Eggleston doesn’t use watermarks on his work on the web, and he doesn’t sign his prints (according to Hawk). I’d quote it for you, but again Chickenhawk has blocked me – maybe he is fearful I’ll repeat his own words back to him with more accuracy and questions…

Anyhow, given that Hawk’s primary source of income does not come from his photography it is no surprise that he said: “I do not register my images at all. I'm not as concerned with going after infringement.”

Trey on the other hand banks six figures a year licensing his work so he does register his work in order to protect it. I wonder if Hawk thinks we should all do as he does, or as Trey does?

Then again, I wonder what Hawk's idol Eggleston does? Speaking of Eggleston, one tiny detail Hawk didn’t mention about his website, is that it clearly states: “Official website of William Eggleston and the Eggleston Artistic Trust.
All images © Eggleston Artist Trust. All rights reserved.”

Meaning, the photographer who Hawk says we should all look to as an example when it comes to signatures is even more strict (ALL RIGHTS RESERVED) then Trey when it comes to copyright!

The fact that Trey is choosing to ignore my basic questions about his philosophy is a little frustrating, but I can be patient, or decide to get over it - I’m just glad he has the integrity to host an open exchange of ideas.

I’m glad people like yourself are willing to ask Hawk to explain what he wrote, and the fact that he isn’t adequately answering you speaks volumes. The fact that he doesn’t want me to read what he continues to write – well, that is his perogative.
Joseph – you are not the only one confused by Thomas ©hickenhawk’s popularity, though I’ve also read many comments by other people dismissing him as a blow-hard.

I do feel you and I have a slightly different take on if an artist “should” identify their work or not. Basically I’m in the same ballpark as Trey (scary as that sounds) on that one – I believe each individual has the right to make that personal/business decision for themselves. For some it is an aesthetic preference, for others it is a practical business strategy, and a bunch of people probably don’t care either way.

There are brands with an intentionally huge graphic presence, and others with more a subtle approach (I’m think of clothing as one example – Tommy Hillfiger uses lots of LARGE text, Ralph Lauren shirts usually have an instantly identifiable, yet small logo on the chest, others have only a label on the inside).

Also, in fairness to Ratcliff, he made many comments that his feelings about watermarks are just his aesthetic opinion. He is also not afraid to acknowledge that he is inconsistent and contradicting at times (see: he likes RC’s water mark, he signs his $2k prints, he photographs logos, he considers shoplifting to be akin to stealing and/or “stealing”…).

Also important, Trey humbly acknowledges there are other aspects of professional photography where he does see the benefit and practical application of watermarks (see: his comments about wedding & portrait biz).

The objection to logos, using an image of Times Square as an example has me wondering if the entire conversation was just meant to be an attention grabbing inside joke between Hawk and Trey – the funny part is that the conversation really highlights that the two of them SAY they agree, but obviously they don’t practice the same business/copyright philosophy. One is a wealthy stockbroker who doesn’t register his work or bother with infringements, the other makes a lot of money by registering his work, licensing it, and under certain circumstances filling law suits to protect it, but also looking the other way when it benefits his on-line persona as someone who likes to share his work commercially for free with lay people and practically non-existent “bottom feeders.”

What is most hypocritical about Trey’s logic is that his copyright policy is not enforced with any consistency. He registers his work to go after only big damages, but doesn’t worry about “bottom feeders” because although they “steal” from him, he can’t get blood from a stone. All of us can probably understand not having the time or resources to go after everyone, but is theft stealing, or is infringement simply the new black? Is copying for small scale commercial use ok as long as it helps with self promotion?

In contrast, he says hardly any body with money (legit companies) would steal, even though he notes that he registers to make lawsuits easy. Plus he cites his personal experience as examples of legit companies stealing from him.

One of the most misguided things about Tery’s policy is that he is either totally apathetic or clueless about how his business practices are really hurting what he referred to as “hundreds of thousands” of other photographers who have their work stolen and used with out a license or permission. Actually, he personally encourages others to adopt his attitude by telling other photographers to consider the side effect to be the benefit of free promotion of ones work, which will undoubtedly lead to more visibility and more work. And how could anyone argue – did you see the percentages he used to back up his argument, and look how successful he is!

If photographers or any business want to give away work, that is a common and acceptable personal/business decision/practice. However, Trey’s logic that he wants to give it away to some, license it to others, BUT then look the other way AND sue others for the EXACT same behavior when violating his internet circle of trust...?

When many people where “file sharing”/illegally downloading/pirating/stealing music (what ever term works best for you) the artists and music industry realized they had a serious cultural/business disconnect with their core audience/consumer.

Musicians are free to give away their music, but their audience is not legally allowed to steal it. (Like Trey's 7-11 tic-tac shoplifting comparison, I'm assume some music is still being stollen.) The biggest challenge then was educating the consumer that by stealing the music, the musicians where getting ripped off – by the hundreds of thousands! Or maybe they just circumvented the entire discussion by simply making it as easy as possible for people to plug in a credit card number and click to buy. It isn’t perfect, but most people, the majority of whom could care less about the legal licensing jargon on iTunes, are now aware that it is important to respect registered copyrighted material and it isn’t a bid deal to buy music. Whether the actual artists/industry regained ALL the value it had before is debatable, but they didn’t just lie down and condone theft as fantastic new-school marketing plan.

An interesting parallel – the musical audience is primarily made up of paying customers and individuals (what Trey refers to as “bottom feeders”). And because major record labels and the industry as whole aggressively enforce infringement, most large companies don’t commercially use music with out a license – they know if they do, they will face a lawsuit (same as if they steal Trey’s images – and since Trey was the first photographer ever to file a successful infringement lawsuit, I’m sure everyone other legit company took notice and plans to never abuse another artist’s copyright, right?)

An interesting topic would be to read why Trey bothers to register his work if everyone out there is so informed, trustworthy, not stealing and generally enthusiastic about compensating him fairly for his efforts.

Less interesting, but possibly entertaining: Does Thomas Hawk find William Eggleston’s copyright policy to be “personally offensive”?

Are “bottom feeders” and the small-scale commercial use of your registered images theft or simply people doing you a favor by copying it with the unintended resulting bonus of helping you promote yourself?

OK, if both, how much bottom feeding can everyone do before they reach the point of infringement where you flip flop and file an easy lawsuit against them for significant infringement damages?

And, are non-commercial uses of your work with out adhering to your CC Terms theft or just another marketing boost?

Hundreds of thousands of other photographers curiously want to understand your philosophy/copyright policy (because it has an impact on everyone - not just photographers).

Another point we agree on: It is certainly not the best policy for everyone.
Thanks for sharing your view. Just this morning I found one of my top selling photos on a website with an interesting discussion about its geology over a stolen image. That really hit a nerve for me about sharing big beautiful photos online! I too don't like watermarking, and for this reason I haven't, but I feel like maybe I should. Have you heard of or considered it? I guess its a way to digitally watermark your images.
Those particular photogs will never answer a question directly.

+Joseph Kreydatus I don't see any questions here by Jamie because I've blocked him. It's not that I'm avoiding any specific question per se, it's just when you block somebody you no longer see what they type.

In terms of your question earlier on this subject I thought I gave you a fairly detailed answer as far as my postion goes.
Hey Joseph - look forward to staying in touch and sharing ideas in the future even if we don't always agree 100% on everything - part of what I enjoy about being wrong so often is that it gives me the opportunity to learn from intelligent people like yourself.

And yes, the Hawkenator blocked me from reading all of his comments so I can't speak to what ever he is saying in the discussion with you now. I have never blocked him so I'm assuming he could still read/answer any of the questions all of us posed earlier.

As far as where he started out - the reports I read indicated that his professional background is not in photography and his day job is in finance. I don't think that is a limiting factor when it comes to the quality of anyone's artwork, in fact many outstanding photographers came from other fields such as doctors (Schatz), economists (Salgado), journalism (Meola), even Diane Arbus started in her families fashion/retail business...

But obviously having some sort of financial security has had an impact on Hawk's disdain for those who depend on copyrights to earn a living. Just imagine, if Trey, or Eggelston, or Robert Frank, or Avedon, or any of the "famous" photographers that Thomas Hawk frequently mentions never had the right registered their work. After all, that lawsuit is how Trey earned his pay, when he sued Time, for more then a dime.

It is also widely know that 'Thomas Hawk' is his self appointed nick name, his real name is something else - maybe he does that to keep his professional career separate from his art/legal opinions and/or his G+ comments.

Given that Trey registers and defends his copyright (sometimes) it seems like he is somewhat more invested in photography as a profession. As for the Apps and Software and other more lucrative products he is involved with - I would assume those too are commercially licensed to individual users.
i hv watermark, small one, 50-60% opacity, coz

I want people to know me, i need the publicity since i don't have over 300K followers!

+Trey Ratcliff

My images have been stolen and sold but to tiny newspapers and by one-person ad agencies that may only exist for a few months at a time by that name.

How do I know this? Because I've had people make scans of my images being used as ads in these tiny newspapers or handouts etc. Maybe that is just the cost of doing business - but it is annoying.

So my own solution was - in my photo store - I don't watermark the images since the person is already at the store which was the main point of the watermark that I used on the social media or other venues.

And yes - I'm afraid that your view - though it has many good points - is something that works for maybe the top ten photographers (whatever that means exactly).

I'm somewhere in the middle of the crowd - and my photographs have no particular Beckerman style. You know my stuff can go from hard-core HDR Surreal Switch turned on - to naturalistic street photos.

So I'd say that the watermark solution (no pun intended) depends on your own business and artistic circumstances.
Dave Beckeman - according to Trey's advice above you should consider it a good thing that those "bottom feeders" stole your work and helped you get your name/work out there. He said that inevitably what will happen is legit companies will see your "rouge" images, and IF they want, they will track you down - presumably to license/pay you for the use of the work that the others stole.

Agree with you that it is a personal/business decision for each individual. The copyright advice he is giving listed in #8 does not mesh with the logic in his listed #4 point...
“I don’t see any questions here by Jamie Smith because I’ve blocked him.”

A sincere THANK YOU for the resumé builder, as good of an endorsement as I could ever get!

Ask him a question, and you, just like the answer don't exist.

If a question falls on G+ and Thomas Block is there to pretend he didn't read it, does anyone else on the internet have the ability to read the watermark just below the image containing the words ”ALL RIGHTS RESERVED” in the copyright notice on Mr. Eggelston’s website?

Mr. Eggleston was who ©hicken Hawk said was his example for us to follow or ignore when he said "we should not be comparing photographs to paintings"?
Tineye is great for tracking your content online, but what would it be like to find your prints for sale on the street? I know this is another tic-tac bottom feeder scenario, but I thought it would be interesting as a hypothetical situation. Especially since a lot of the great work on is shot in places like China, where, let's face it, counterfeiting is the sincerest form of flattery.
Hey Mori Yagi - it is a reasonable question, here is a quote about it from Trey from earlier in the dissucssion:

"I'm not worried about prints -- we sell limited edition prints and whatnot. I know our quality is great... if people want to download and print themselves -- I'm not gonna throw a fit."

The other issue that could come up is how would the collectors who are paying thousands of dollars for a limited edition feel to know it is available from free. It sounds like the quality of his prints distinguish them enough as limited editions.
+Jamie Smith that makes sense - if it's not a big revenue stream for Trey then it's probably not a concern. Content theft is akin to plagiarism, and it's probably unlikely that someone would be commissioned to do commercial work off of a plagiarized portfolio.

The principle of the question lies in commercial use though - printing for one's own use is different than printing someone else's work and selling it as your own or without license. It's just an extension of online to offline - enforcement is easier online due to reverse image search technology, but real world piracy is a problem without a (effective) solution.
Mori Yagi - "The principle of the question lies in commercial use though" Ah-ah, there in lies the rub. See Trey's #4 vs. #8 philosophies. On the one hand he has a very defined policy for handing commercial infringement, but thru out the discussion is tolerant of some theft (cost of doing business) because it is a marketing strategy ("rouge" images will be seen by legit companies)...

RE: Prints specifically, you'll have to ask Trey if the ones people are permitted to download and print for non-commerical uses must include attribution and link back to stuckincustoms - I'm not sure how he handles that, as the images have no water mark - maybe his policy doesn't require attribution, maybe it is up to each non-commerical user to apply his info to the prints they are making of his work.

See also: There were some comments and discussion about signatures on prints - Trey said he signs some of the limited edition prints he sells (commercial), so perhaps it is the artist's signature that he considers the valuable distinction between a limited edition print and how ever many non-comercial copies people with to download and print.

What is "content theft"?
Content theft refers to the scraping and distribution of online content outside of license (e.g. reposting articles without attribution); it's mostly a blogger and web publisher term (see, but it's also referred to in IP debates on other types of media.
Mori Yagi – thanks for the definition and link – I wasn’t familiar with the term.

Trey made it clear that his policy does not consider it content theft for the non-commercial use of his work, BUT he requires that he be given attribution and a link back to his website. Many people posted links to websites violating his non-commercial usage terms, some were small scale, and given that he considers small scale commercial infringements not worth his time (tic-tacs), I can’t imagine that he would be more strict about non-commercial infringements – keep in mind, they are less likely to have money and he said he is most interested in cases with large damage$, not necessarily the act of stealing his work.

As far as prints, it sounds like as long as they are for non-commercial use, people are going by his: “if people want to download and print themselves -- I'm not gonna throw a fit” statement.

I think you raise an excellent point that if print Trey’s allows anyone to print, and since there is NO watermark, it is unclear if they do need to add the attribution and how he wants them to display his URL on the print?

As far as commercial usage, Trey is very clear (see his point #4) that he requires a license or else he takes legal action because it is easy. Except when he doesn’t (see his point #8). He also acknowledges that when people “steal” his work he is practical/tolerant of a certain level of violation of his commercial usage terms because it is a modern day form of advertising.

Actually, if you read some of his other comments above, you’ll see that not only is he tolerant of certain commercial uses with out a license, he also encourages others to consider the benefits of same behavior – indicating that “rouge” (stolen) images end up being seen, so they too are a form of marketing in that he believes this has/will lead to law abiding customers wanting to contact him and pay for to license the stolen work.

For an “old school gentleman” he really seems to make the case that the idea of content theft is antiquated and not practical. The new school way seems to be to embrace people violating copyrights in the interest of self-promotion and prosecute others for the same behavior if they are wealthy.

The grayest of gray areas has to be where he draws the line – what level of stealing does he appreciate because it gets his work more attention vs. when does he decide to sue for content theft, plagiarism, stealing, infringement, copying?

That is what I find most compelling about his stated philosophy – it makes little sense for the community, unless he has zero compassion for the “hundreds of thousands” of other fellow photographers who he says have their work stolen.

Mori, you mentioned, “real world piracy is a problem without a (effective) solution.” Maybe, and it isn’t going to improve if photographers are apathetic, and choose to embrace content theft. The music industry had/has a similar problem – like Trey they started suing people to get the message across, however in both art forms, the majority of the consumers/users are individuals (“bottom feeders”) – only one of industry is actively encouraging theft.

I’m also thinking about what you said earlier how; “if it's not a big revenue stream for Trey then it's probably not a concern.” He said he is earning six figures a year licensing his work and he also might have income from different sources (apps, software, teaching, limited edition print sales, speaking/talent agency) so you may have a point that content theft isn’t as important to him…

But Trey has filed lawsuits and he does register his work – a much different approach compared to Thomas Hawk who wrote that he does not register, watermark, or concern himself with infringement. It is possible that neither of their livelihoods is dependent on protecting their copyrights…not for me to say how/why they practice these philosophies, but tough to argue with them – it seems to be working quite well.
I was thinking of putting my little avatar (as a new trend and watermark) in the bottom corner of each of my photos - instagram photos included. ;) Thoughts?
Good discussion still.

+Jamie Smith Yes you are right I have quite a grey area. It's not so much that "some stealing is okay and other is not." All stealing is bad, but it comes down to what is actionable for me. 80% of stealing situations are by very tiny insignificant players. These guys have such a small audience and so little revenue -- it's like a small bug hitting my windshield. It's just not practical to go after them to the same degree I go after Time, Inc. Like anyone, I have limited resources, so I focus those resources on the people that are profiting the most from my hard work.
This discussion has been really useful for me. I've recently started a photography business and began watermarking photos. The risk of anyone copying my shots at this stage are low, so I'm shifting quite quickly to the "no watermark" side in this debate. I will continue reading as both sides have some great commentary on the issue.
Trey – how do you account for YOUR 19-20% decrease in statistical data from earlier in this discussion? Or are you just making up numbers to try and strengthen a bogus argument?

“80% of stealing situations are by very tiny insignificant players.”


“Yes yes... this happens to hundreds of thousands of photographers. You are not alone. But, consider the salient question: What are the damages? 99% of the time, there is none. 99% of the time, they are shared on a website that gets 20 visits a month. Who cares?”

It is wildly irresponsible for an industry leader with an audience of 300,000 people (some of whom I also assume count on your advice when they purchase the products and services you recommend/$ell) to pretend that the statistics you’re using have anything to do with reality.

First 0 legit companies violate copyrights, then less then 1%, now you say it could be as high as 20%?

20% is pretty steep cost of doing/loosing business, wouldn’t you agree? 1/5 people who stealing your work is not a "bottom feeder" or "insignificant player" – yikes!

Like you, I believe theft is impacting MANY, MANY photographers, AND having enough resources to find and go after every thief is extremely difficult – on this issue we are probably 100% in agreement.

How should "we" photographers choose to look at the situation - by working together to acknowledge it is a big problem, or by embracing theft as a good thing as long as we are earning six figures licensing work.

Where we differ, is that I’m astonished that you don’t see any disconnect or contradiction when telling others that they should consider “rouge” (STOLEN) images to be an acceptable new school form of marketing/promotion that leads to more sales.

You also haven’t addressed the reality that your shoplifting analogy is bogus since tic-tacs are purchased, and ownership is transferred to the customer for consumption, while shoplifters (if caught) are prosecuted based on the crime (not the level of damages). To my knowledge, 7-11 does not condone theft as a form of advertising for 1-20% of the population. Your copyrights on the other hand you obviously keep ownership or else you wouldn’t be registering them and licensing work to legitimate companies, apparently in some cases after they’ve been seen as “rouge” (stolen) copies out there on the internet. 7-11 also can’t sell tic-tacs that have already been stolen.

There is certainly a culture of (some) on–line users who consider stealing ok - if you don’t believe me, review the comments from your followers who think they share your philosophy and then use your work non-commercially with out attribution, or ask yourself why so many people who idolize you are saying that stealing is really only “stealing”, or not theft, but simply “copying”.

Let me address this point of "Stealing." Many people above say something to the effect of, "Well I put images up and they are stolen and put on other websites!" Yes yes... this happens to hundreds of thousands of photographers. You are not alone. But, consider the salient question: What are the damages? 99% of the time, there is none. 99% of the time, they are shared on a website that gets 20 visits a month. Who cares? 1% of the time they are shared on a big site, like happened with a photo of my son, which was attached to an inappropriate article on the Huffington Post ( +Arianna Huffington never apologized for that one... no fruitcake for her this Christmas). Anyway, these are the Class 5 rapids you run on the internet!

Remember that legitimate companies will still see your "rogue" copies of your photos. If they are interested, they will be able to track you down still.”
- Trey R.

What “percentage” of last year’s licensing fees came from legitimate (law abiding) clients contacting you to license “rogue” (illegal copies) images? What “percentage” assumed it was ok to just use images with out a license – and how did you research these figures?

If you made nothing on the “rouge images are free self promo pieces" theory, seems theft doesn’t translate to sales. If you made a ton of money, it seems that lots of people are stealing your work and you are happy to let them because it is good PR.

If I apply your logic, what separates the now "80%" from the "20%" - in other words, how do you decide when to sue someone when it is based on money instead of copyright infringement?

I still would love to hear a discussion about what motivates you to register vs. why someone like Thomas ©hickenblock would be “personally offended” when people as prominent as his idol, William Eggelston, not only reserve all copyrights, but actually put a watermark/© noitice bellow an image on their website. Is Eggelston guilty of accusing Hawk of theft for simply registering and protecting his work with a watermark?

Watermarks are just a drop in the bucket if the entire culture is being conditioned to ignore copyrights.

I have a question for you +Trey Ratcliff if you don't mind... on my luxury travel blog, I have as 'Photograph of the week' series where I like to feature images from excellent photographers such as yourself (yes, I know... flattery will get me everywhere ;-) ). There are a lot of scraper sites out there that copy the blog and basically just steal bandwidth, strip out links from the posts, etc. so I like to put my blog's watermark on any larger images so anyone seeing the post on the scraper site will know which blog it's coming from, and hopefully go on to visit that, rather than the scraper site.

So, what I do is for my 'photograph of the week', is write a short blurb about the image, insert a picture with the blog's watermark (checking this is OK with the photographer first), and then add a 'thank you' snippet with a link to the photographer in question. Here's an example:

Would you be happy if I re-produced your work in this way? Thanks...
+Trey Ratcliff interesting points you have there, but sometimes as a new photographer, when I once saw an image online, i couldn't believe it was mine, i thought it was someonelesses, trying to use my idea. but i realized it was mine. at a certain point i didn't care, cause i am like wow someone actually likes my stuff, but what was annoying was that someone claimed it was theres. i actually started researching if the photo was theirs and if i accedently made a picture exactly like it, but i realized the individual was lying and it was in fact my own. i make my watermarks invisible to the point that you can't see it, and you have to look really closley to see it. i use transparency feature, just to know its mine.
hardcore transparency. look hard to see if its really mine.
Thanks all. I added something to Point #2 based on feedback... thanks --

2) Legitimate companies do not steal images to use commercially. So I don’t have any logical fear there. *In case of emergency, break glass and see #4

+Jamie Smith there is a big grey area... there is a hinterland between legit and illegit... I think you get my point, though... or I hope.
‘Tréy Magnifique’

As if I haven’t added enough long-winded comments to this post already – Obviously I find the majority of your opinions to be at least 50% more reasonable then Thomas Hawk, and I’ve openly pointed out where I agree thru out the course of the entire discussion.

Would you be open to changing your mind (”Legitimate companies do not steal images to use commercially.”), if I was able to provide you with any examples to the contrary?

The parts of the conversation that I don’t understand, I’ve tried to painstakingly ask you about at nauseam - But any two-bit politician can just respond back to serious questions with an answer to the questions they WISH they had been asked instead of facing reality. I also know that your are a very smart and successful creative thinker, so there has to be some other reason you’re letting Thomas contradict himself left and right and ignoring the questions others of us have asked - and I just don’t get it?

Where did you get your 0%, 99%, 80% figures? I’d like to decide for myself if it is a trustworthy and accurate source. As it stands, a 20% margin of error is a huge.

OK, I will be your monkey - now that you’re maintaining that hundreds of thousands of photographers have their work stolen, and only 20% (so at least 20,000 give or take) of those people’s work is being infringed upon in such a way that it is serious enough to warrant legal action to protect an artist’s copyrights, is this something you consider to be a sizeable enough problem for leaders in the photo/social media community to try and address?

Or are we still talking tic-tacs and bugs on a windshield? (Take how much you got from Time, Inc and multiply it times 20,000.)

I have a business proposition for you:
Lets work together to create a copyright registration tutorial and photography business practices guide. We will license ($ell) what we create to anyone who is interested in learning how to improve the process and protect his or her work. We can split everything 50/50 and I am also willing to match you and donate whatever percentage you want to give to a worthy cause, like a photographer’s copyright education or legal defense fund to continue to help support your fellow and future photographers.

On a personal note, I really enjoy some of your stories, drawings, and the fact that your favorite photographer is a man who would rather destroy his life’s work than share it with his ex-wife - that was an unexpected twist. Sounds like he was one stubborn guy.
+Scott Frederick Have pride in yourself and your work! You do not need someone else's approval or to tell you what you should do or not do..Earn your merit based on your own effort!
I watermark my images, like others have mentioned, using 60% small text in a corner. I try to place it left, of right, based on what is the least obtrusive for the shot. I had something happen today that made it worth it.

I work in radio, and I shoot concerts for the station as a hobby. I post the photos on the station website/blog, but the posts are under my on-air stage name. Last week I shot photos at a concert and posted them. A musical instrument company needs a new photo of the artist for their catalog and found the post via google. They found me because my watermark has my name instead of my stage name. I am glad I had it on there.

I do agree many watermarks are so big, or poorly placed, that they hurt the image, but I have a also heard a small WM has some advantages for registered images. I have heard that If a registered image is taken, and the WM is removed, it aids in showing intent - the user knew and willingly removed the WM. Is that correct?
Steve - yes. If someone removes your watermark it is a violation of the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act). Also, the fact they removed it makes it easier to prove willful infringement. This is all assuming you are registering your work with the U.S. Library of Congress Copyright Office.
Simon - Trey has acknowledged that there are some inconsistencies in his philosophies (see also: the discussion about liking RC's water mark, considering stealing "stealing", mentioning that it is very prevalent but also "who cares?", taking the advantage of the fact that "rouge" (stolen) images are a marketing device that translate to increased sales, enjoying a signature on a painting, and using signatures for some of his limited edition prints).

If you want a simple answer: On the world's #1 Travel Photography website, (his) he has listed his licensing terms for both non-commerical and commercial uses. There is noting about his "gray area" usage rights policies...his licensing terms are pretty cut and dry compared to some of the comments on this post.

Also, there is nothing listed about his personal watermark policy, probably because everyone is free to choose if/when to use a watermark or not. Personal preference of the artist is not as consistent as copyright law.

Everyone can choose to lock their car or not. Legally, others aren't allowed to steal a vehicle no matter if it is locked or unlocked. Theft is theft and personal tastes change.

"All stealing is bad, but it comes down to what is actionable for me. 80% of stealing situations are by very tiny insignificant players."
Trey Ratcliff
+Jamie Smith Thanks for the clarification. Willful Infringement was the phrase I was trying to remember.
Thanks all.

+Simon Cole That is a strange thing at WhoSay - they AUTOMATICALLY put that watermark on there... whenever you post photos into WhoSay, it just happens... I wish it wasn't there... but.... I can't do anything about it
Anytime someone with TREY RATCLIFF’S experience, visibility, and influence has the balls to say “hundreds of thousands of photographers” are having their work stolen, I take notice and consider if there is a systemic failure worthy of our entire industry/community's attention.

Sharing non-commercial photos for free is great! Licensing their commercial usage is also great! A culture that believes that stealing them isn’t a problem really hurts a lot of artists.

Trey – here is why I believe your philosophy is part of the problem:

1.) You are not alone. Many people (myself included) find SOME watermarks to be a visual distraction. Others (myself included) find SOME watermarks to be a practical business/security application. And a bunch of others don’t give a shit either way.

2.) I admire your courageous spirit and willingness to accept the risks of making your work widely available on the internet. The rest of #2 is bogus or else you wouldn’t need #4 (see also: Time Inc, and your unfortunate first hand experience with The Huffingtion Post using a picture of your kid w/o permission).

3.) “Necessity, who is the mother of all invention.” – Plato

4.) Amen.

5.) Free Country.

6.) I’m not sure I understand how using a watermark would compromise one's ability to share their work for free/fun, but I absolutely agree that each individual has the right to share, sell, archive, and present his or her work how they choose.

7.) I don’t buy green bananas.

8.) Mixed metaphors aside, see #3 for your previous advice about how you use technology to deal with “bottom feeders”. And the shift from your “99-100%” to “80%” of all thefts are the inconsequential cost of doing business – what percentage would you actually start to practice what you preach and use Google/Tineye technology to go after “bottom feeders”?

If you are going to use statistics as the factual basis of an argument, don’t you think the audience deserves to know the source of the data? Or at least hear some kind of rational explanation for a “20%” margin or error – which in this case is looking more like a wishy-washy back pedaling opinion.

Thomas Hawk is equally as popular as Trey in some social media circles, but unlike Ratcliff, Hawk has said he doesn’t register his work or concern himself with infringements. He said a lot of things.

If someone has enough money to do what they love for free, does that change how they perceive the impact their words and behavior have on others who share the same passions?

There is something to be said for respecting an artist who demands to be compensated for their work in order to earn a living.
‘Eleven / Eleven / Eleven’

From his blog, dated July 12, 2011: ‘Top 10 Tips on Google+ for Photographers'

“As a policy I no longer comment about anything copyright related, so please don’t ask about that here or on G+. I won’t answer any questions about it.”

-Thomas Hawk

Apparently not a fan of Spinal Tap.
How have others felt about having Thomas Hawk's "support" in the past:

"I don't know Thomas Hawk and I don't remember ever meeting him or communicating with him online. But I read Hawk's blog posts and disagreed with much of it. His repeated name-calling, leaps of logic, questionable grasp of copyright law, hostile attitude, and the repeated inaccurate (and irrelevant) references to each of our finances were frustrating."
- Andy Baio

With friends like these....
A triumph! Excellent image. Congratulations!
Thanks for Writing this! so true;-) it goes for lots of things too, like writing copy/content. I'm not fearful of thievery, we all got our ideas and inspiration from somewhere! I love what i do and don't focus on the insignificant person who may feel they cant, so the take. I don't like fences, and don't plan on building any. by the by, Isn't technology marvelous?
Great point, I agree on all counts, if you have the time (or in your case, a team) to do all the investigative work.
I like ur perspective. Will give it some thought. thanks for sharing !
So much life in this shot... Beautiful colors as well.
Trey - can you verify if this is true in your experience?

‎"Having repeatedly read that Google+ was photographer friendly we were actually expecting that metadata would be retained on any images displayed on Google+, or at the very least the copyright metadata would still be present.
We were shocked to find that ALL metadata is removed from the images displayed on Google+.

Google+ created three versions of the test image;

As a thumbnail to represent our folder Metadata Test (resized at 171 x 171)

As an image within the folder Metadata Test (resized at 469 x 703)

Displayed as an image on its own website page (resized at 608 x 912)

In every case all the metadata is deleted from these displayed images. Anyone seeking to license an image displayed on Google+ no longer has access to the copyright metadata or the copyright status of the image.

Further investigation revealed that Google+ had also created other versions of the image, one of them sized at 683 x 1024 and another at 533 x 800, and as in the other renderings of the test image the metadata is deleted. We wonder how many other versions their might be and why all these versions are created by Google+."

Source (and more details at) :
Tim Tye
+Trey Ratcliff I do buy in to your philosophy, particularly about using the Creative Commons license. I went through a period of soul searching when I was launching my website, Should I copyright the material? On the one hand, I want to retain ownership of my "baby". On the other hand, I want to share it with the world at large.
In the end I decide to place the Creative Commons License for the text on that site. Everybody is free to make use of it, whether it is for their own travels, or for their own blog/website, as long as they too employ the same license on derived works. Generosity is the theme: let's share knowledge and let knowledge be shared.
Similarly, I make use of Wikimedia imageries where the author has allowed their photos to be shared, properly attributed to the creator.
I am glad that more and more people are buying in to this idea.
Hey Trey, Scott Kublin turned me on to you and your Photography... (he has been a Coaching Client of mine for a while)...I admit... i have printed out some of your work and it inspires me every day in my office... Is that cool with you??

Best, and thanks for all you do!
Hi Trey,

My friends and I have differing opinions on what Non-Commercial means so +Trey Ratcliff I'd love it if you wouldn't mind chiming in on this to help me.

Thank you!

You wrote:

As you may know, my work is all Creative Commons Non-Commercial. That means people, as long as they give credit and link back to , can use my images on their blogs, wallpaper, personal use – anything – as long as it is not used commercially.

Let's say that I have a travel blog where I write about various places. But I also sell coffee cups, t-shirts, baseball caps, etc., with beautiful scenes from these various places on them. I also sell ads on my blog with AdWords and the like.

Now, I write a blog post about New York ... Would I be able to use your photo "ON" my blog post?

I'm of the opinion that just placing your photos on my blog post with the proper attribution falls within the Non-Commercial license. Am I right to assume that?

I'm assuming I'm only in violation of the Non-Commercial license when I put your photos on my coffee cups, t-shirts, baseball caps, etc., and sell them.

Am I right to assume that?

Your input and clarification on this would be most appreciated Trey.

Thank you in advance!
And here is a very different take from the Huffington Post (who Trey mentioned used a picture of his child with out permission)....

"The problem with the bill, and its Senate companion, the PROTECT IP Act, is not in its goals: no one disagrees artists should be paid for their work."

So if this particular legislation is the problem, what are the alternative solutions that everyone is working on in order to make sure artists get paid for their work?
I love America and Nieurk particular city that never sleeps I hope to have the opportunity to live in America, a country or the world of miracles and opportunities
I'm so happy I found this..
I was about to add watermarks to all my images, looking for an auto batch way to do it in G+
but its' true - it will remove from the minimalism and beauty of the image, which real photographers strive for.
and Google image search is amazing..

see you ~ <3
I agree as well - but on the other hand it can be fin to track your images around the new. Personally I have found images on Pinterest or tumbler which have been nearly impossible to track to the original owner.

I posted and article on how to use google to find you and other images:
To me, a watermarked photo is like someone talking during a movie.
Long thread, I think if you give away your images with Creative License, then a fat watermark right in the middle of the picture would stink, but, there is a but...

You can make a leaving out of photography in many ways.

Trey and some other guys do it by selling books, teaching, etc..., so they can give away their work for free for non commercial purposes, it actually works as a strong marketing tool, everybody knows the guy so we consume his work in other forms.

The other market is for hired photographers, those photographers do weddings, parties, concerts, corporate business photography, for those, the idea of giving away some of the work so that they get more known is a good publicity strategy.

Now, there is a big market of buyers looking for images like Royalty Free and Editorial, for those photographers who are earning from that market, sorry, you can show your work here, but it has to be watermarked, there is no other way.

Buyers would simply copy your images and use it for commercial purposes and unlike Trey who has a team working for him, registering all his images, lawyers, and a legion of fans who would tell him anywhere in the world if his images were used, your work would be simply stolen without any benefit for the photographer.

I know a lot of you will disagree, but I am just saying there are diferent paths and thats why there are diferent opinions on the subject.

Thanks for listening.


+Trey Ratcliff im surprised that google hasn't set up something like number 7 already.

it already has a reverse image search service like you say and it also has the "google alerts" service that emails you when certain words appear on the internet or on certain sites.

it would only be a matter of joining two of those services together and make it give you an alert you when a certain image shows up somewhere else. or you could just narrow it down to certain sites where you dont want you images showing up.

i'd imagine there would even be plenty of photographers that would pay a service like that
+Sandra Buskirk I'm with you - thieves are out there and were WELL aware of that. Having your contact information in a photo i definitely makes it EASY for someone to contact you...double edged sword!  Maybe I miss it, but what about the unobtrusive ones? How did the people feel about that one?!

You have many aspects to look at this one, but you have to respect the individuals opinions. Sure you may not agree, but that's how they feel and doesn't make them wrong.

It's godo to see the different views -- I'm sure they will help many formulate their own reasonings and justifications for including or not including a watermark. 
I feel exactly the same on all these points. Yet, I still hold some tentative angst in my heart (conditioned mentality, I guess). What I need to do though is dive headfirst with no regrets.
I'm glad you can be a leader of this mind set. It's healthy and... yes, liberating. Thank-you  +Trey Ratcliff, for freeing us all from posting once-beautiful images and letting the real stars of our work shine... our IMAGES!  :)
+Trey Ratcliff Was catching up on your latest hangout and I caught that you had spoken previously on your thoughts when watermarking within G+. Forgive me if this is going over old ground. But can you elaborate on points 3 & 4? I would like to check if my images are seen elsewhere on the web, just to keep tabs. I'm not aware of how you can register your images. Is this  something that is available in other countries (i.e. Australia)?
I think if I knew more about these points then I would feel better about removing watermarks from my images
+Trey Ratcliff This is my first time here on Google+ and for the first time I just experienced someone stealing my photo here. It's a horrible feeling because it was not done by accident. They cropped the watermark and are claiming that it's their photo. Renamed the file name as well. No credit mention. It would be nice if you or the gang could talk more on this subject especially for those of us that are new to G+ and nervous about continuing our participation. I know photo stealing happens all over but this one to me just hit home harder because it was so in my face and blatant. KWIM?
Hi +Karen Montalvo the photo was posted in a community that I'm on. I was tipped off immediately by one of the members. I and other photographers kindly commented to the individual about their actions  but they just deleted our comments. In the end one of the admins removed their post and banned the person. I also reported the image to google. First time I guess it's easy to take it really personally. Now that the initial shock has worn off I feel fine :)  It really would be nice when/if google can do a trace back to the original photographer on online images. This might satisfy a lot of people who are sitting on the fence about the watermarking issue. Nice discussion btw but wow so many posts!!! :)
peetty   soon      the   connection   plarty
water mark is ugly but what is the solution of image right protection?
Very informative, thanks for the info =;0)
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