To Watermark or Not To Watermark: That is the question

To Watermark or Not To Watermark: That is the question

I’m often involved in discussions about watermarking photos. Specifically, that I should be watermarking my photos. To me, photographers you’ve got a choice, and the default shouldn’t be the watermark.

  1. Watermark your work, at either a mild or extreme ends of invasiveness
  2. Don’t watermark your work

Legally, one doesn’t need to watermark

People seem to (wrongly) think that a watermark is a sign that the work is copyrighted. Legally, copyright is implied and automatic, so that’s just a common-held misbelief. People also seem to think that work won’t be pinched IF it’s watermarked, or at least they will have a visual reminder that it’s owned by someone. A little “hey, don’t pinch me please” reminder…

My experience is that heavily watermarked work will never be widely seen. Mild watermarks may be seen or shared, but detract from the work, thus reducing people sharing and getting an audience.

Do you want your work to be seen?

To be blunt, if you want your work to be seen, watermarking it is the best approach to have a detrimental impact on that. But, I didn’t always think this way.

I used to do a simple little watermark, cause I somewhat felt the need to protect my work. So I hoped for a little thing down the bottom corner. Here’s an example from a site I used to post at:

Would a company crop a watermark for commercial use?

What do you know? It turns up somewhere. Not some regular kinda blog, but a corporate, commercial website.


Just to see how they’ve cropped this, I’ve done a little overlay.


But to really see how they’ve cropped it, I found the image they originally uploaded.

And then, I’ve overlayed the original image with transparency to see the crop to remove my watermark.

It’s not an accident – it’s pixel perfect…

Licensing photographs

So, when it comes to licensing photographs, a few things are meant to happen. Most obvious is the permission is granted by the original creator. In this instance, this specific company did not have permission. That said, when it comes to licensing, there are a few things to consider in pricing, and these all come down to the terms of use.

Quality of image (‘size’). Is the work presented in high resolution or of a lower resolution? My models of billing usually follow a small (400px), medium (800px), large(1200px), x-large (1600px) and print size (2400px +). Given this is in the x-large range, this would also be a factor. This is the base rate that is also applied to the rate of single or multi-use.

Single-use or multi-use (‘use’). Is the work to be used in one context or many? Is it used in email newsletters, print material, TVCs, SEM campaigns, or just one context?

Duration of license (‘duration’). Is the work to be used for 1 year, 3 years or in perpetuity. Given this image – according to the URL structure from my investigating – was uploaded March 22, 2014, it’s been used for quite some time and would fall in the ‘perpetuity duration’.

Exclusive or non-exclusive (‘exclusivity’). This is a big one, where licenses are granted a premium fee. In essence, once an image is licensed as exclusive, that’s its selling life completed.

Selling rights. Is the work able to be on-sold from the buyer? Similar to the previous exclusivity terms, this is a big one where a premium fee is applied.

So, when it comes to formulating a price, this is some of the information that needs to be considered. In the example above, we’re talking x-large resolution, in perpetuity – at a minimum. As for single-use or multi-use, I think I’ve got a fair claim that this could be used in a range of contexts – it’s not like they approached me for this one. But that’s a little more of a debate.

Either way, as a photographer who invests thousands of hours in time, many thousands of dollars in equipment – this is always very disheartening.

And by the way – the company above; they used to pictures of mine without permission. I’ll be getting in touch.


Catching out SEN on Copyright. And getting ham compensation.

Catching out SEN on Copyright. And getting ham compensation.

Sorting out copyright is complex. To say the least. How you approach it, well… There are many strategies, from send an invoice to a legal threat, but you never know how they will respond. And you have to be prepared to follow up, which could be really costly, too.

It turns out that Melbourne radio station SEN were using on of my photos, originally posted on my blog in 2012:


as their twitter cover photo, which you can see here:

In the past, when I’ve hit people up, they just take it down and from there, it’s up to me to pay for and pursue legal action. It’s complicated, costly and time-consuming.

Tonight, I tried to do something different.

I was listening to SEN around 4:20pm today (Jul 22), and they opened up a segment about the Melania Trump plagiarising Michelle Obama’s speech. They said, “call up if you’ve got a rip-off story”. So I did.

I explained I’m a photographer to the producer, and then on-air. Have a listen if you like. Long story shot; I think I’m going to score a ham…

Within a couple hours, they’ve taken it down.

Do Channel 7 care about copyright?

Do Channel 7 care about copyright?

Friday week ago – 16th October – I got surprise. I was tagged in a Facebook post with a quick snap of my photo on the Channel 7 Melbourne News broadcast.

Edit – 2pm on 29th October

I received a phone call today, 6 hours after sharing this story via social media. Simon, from Channel 7 Melbourne, apologised for this mistake and advised me this photo was submitted by someone else. When I pressed for who, Simon didn’t know as there was too much data to sort through. Simon indicated that they would continue to look through the data, and I’m now waiting to find out who submitted this photo. After asking for an ETA, Simon advised me he’d ‘try call tomorrow’ (Friday).

To be honest, we’re talking about 8 nights of photos to go back. This would have been 1 night back had they responded to my initial request, but now it’s 8. The fact they have too much data to go through feels unusual, so I am eagerly waiting Simon’s response.

I had no idea they were using it; they never asked, and they didn’t even let me know. The only reason I knew was because a friend of mine happened to catch it and let me know.

When it comes to my photos, they sometimes ‘do the rounds’ and get picked up, both with and without consent. I advised Channel 7 the Monday after the broadcast. They emailed me that Friday with a “we’ll be in touch”. 10 days after letting them know, I’ve had enough of trying to do this quietly.

So what happened?

On Friday morning, October 16, I had an early start to the day. I was meeting up with some Instagram buddies to head out for a sunrise shoot and meet face-to-face. That morning, I put it up on Twitter, Instagram & Facebook. Here’s the tweet, with a notable favourite…

Screenshot from Twitter
Screenshot with the Twitter favourites

Turns my Tweet got a favourite that day from Channel 7 News Melbourne Meteorologist Jane Bunn. Then that night, it’s on air.


Contact with Channel 7

On the following Monday (Oct 19th) morning, I reached out to Channel 7 via a direct Facebook message and asked what happened. From what I can tell, there’s a few potential scenarios:

  1. Someone submitted the photo on my behalf, and without my permission. It’s possible…
  2. As part of the Twitter / Instagram terms of service, they have a legal arrangement with Channel 7 granting usage. I don’t believe this to be the case.
  3. Jane Bunn raised this with the News Team, and they then used it without my permission.

Just to be clear…

Channel 7 did put my name on the photo during broadcast. Crediting, though, is not permission. That’s akin to me crediting Disney when sharing Mickey Mouse material; Disney wound’t stand for it because I am breaching their copyright. And that’s what has happened here.

Does this even matter?

Some would say not, and that I should appreciate the exposure (yes, I get that a fair bit!). In my opinion, and when you’re in my position, it’s my right to care as it’s my photo used without my permission. That’s what really pisses me off; they should have asked! Making this type of creation isn’t easy and it’s a process that has taken years to refine. I mean, for them to just ‘take it’ isn’t right.

Not only that – how do they actually source any of their photos? I mean, now I wonder if anyone actually sends them in, of if they just pluck things away at their choosing!

All that said, photography isn’t my business. I haven’t made this a professional pursuit, because I value my motivations. I do this stuff for the love of it, and to be honest, the feedback I get is really humbling and encouraging. In the past, I’ve used my photography for charity fundraising. I love giving prints as gifts for friends and family. And I frequently let other artists and students use my work. But it’s not about money.

And in over 10 days…

I’m yet to get any response of substance. I’m really disappointed the Channel 7 News team haven’t reached out to me with any explanation. Brett from the Channel 7 social team has been really helpful, and checked in to follow up, but he’s done what he can.


I want Channel 7 to put something on the table as an apology and acceptance they have done the wrong thing. Like I said, this isn’t my business, and I didn’t create the situation. But I want them to fix it.

And if you didn’t know… What should have happened?

In 2014 I managed to get a photo of Russian space junk burning through the sky in dramatic fashion. It was pretty exciting to be honest, and I was approach from ABC Australia, FOX, CNN, and many more requesting permission to use it. Check out CCN and the video: To the surprise of some, I was more than happy for people to use it. Some thought I should have tried to cash in on the photo, but that’s just not me. I was okay for people to use it on request, and I didn’t say no once. In fact, the real highlight was Scienceworks using it for their Planetarium – I honestly find it awesome that I’ve got something that helps get people excited about space and science.

The key to this space junk example is I was asked for permission. The reason people ask for permission is mostly legal; a major broadcaster should understand copyright, and the nature of copyright is such that it’s implied. Whoever creates it, owns it. That’s it.

As for the actual photo, here it is…