I received a really interesting email this past week from a visitor to Car Photographer. He was concerned about image theft from websites. The email reply I wrote, sadly, kept bouncing back. Probably a victim of good old AOL spam protection. However, he posed some interesting questions, so I’ve expanded them into a blog post here, if only in the hope that he’ll check back and read my reply! This isn’t a definitive guide to watermarking and image theft. I’m working on that one… This is a collection of my thoughts that were distilled into an email reply on how he might protect the work and also do something positive with the images.
The concern was not for his own photography, but of the legacy of his relative who had sadly passed away recently. A keep amateur photographer of some note, his position in the motor industry of North America, in the Detroit area, meant that he’d had access over many years to some iconic images, people and automotive subjects. My writer was hoping to do something positive with the archive, Perhaps make prints to sell or put the images online. But he was concerned. How to keep the images safe online, whilst still allowing peolple to see them and potentially generate some kind of an income?
Image theft and watermarking is a hot topic right now, as you probably saw from my recent posts. Copyright is under threat too. Each person has to take their own view, I guess, on what is acceptable. The only way you can ever be totally secure is never to place anything online. But then that defeats the object of having photography if you can’t show it. Some high end photographers don’t watermark anything. They see image theft as the equivalent of kids shoplifting sweets. A minor irritant. Indeed some actually quite like it, as it spreads their reputation, plus the have the luxury of high end clients for income, so don’t worry too much. Others actually see it, somewhat contentiously in my vie, as a calling card. The more of their work that is ‘shared’ the higher their profile. I beg to differ.
My personal view falls between the two. I feel that a commercial use, where a company is using my photography to sell their business or improve their fortunes, should be paid for. A non-commercial, personal blog, web forums etc, where there’s no commercial intent, there’s no fee, but the image should be watermarked and a clear link back to the creator, with a hyperlink, should be there.. And that is my own personal ‘rule of thumb’.
Of course, each person needs to take a view on image security. You might want to consider the following:
What is the objective of putting work online. Is it simply to share amongst friends or to generate an income? Either way, others can take and use your images easily, so if they are of value, I’d watermark them
An image can be ‘grabbed’ using screen capture, so disabling Right Click > Save As won’t work totally, though it will deter casual browsers.
You should consider copyrighting the images at the US copyright office. This gives you the potential to claim significantly more in the event of image theft and commercial use.
Personally, if I had the time and a historical collection that had some saleable images, I would probably set up an online library such as my own here: http://www.octanelibrary.com Indeed, I’m in the process of creating a second, historical image library too, which will be live later this year. His inherited collection sounded like a fascinating subject. Quite how it may generate income is difficult to say right now. One of the biggest hurdles of ‘analog’ film archives is the cost and labor involved in digitizing to the quality required for publication. It is time consuming and takes skill, not the kind of thing that can be done with your average domestic page scanner. That’s one of the reasons why many collections are lost or simply left in boxes.
On the subject of historical photography, I’ve rescued several archives dating back as far as 1910 and plan to start a historic image library, but it is very time consuming to scan images accurately. The image below was taken from a glass plate negative shot in 1910 in Scotland. Recovering the image from the negative took several hours, as some restoration was needed plus getting the exposure levels right on an image that was shot on a pretty basic camera way back then took some doing. But just look at the wonderful image. There’s no way that was shot digitally!
I hope this post is of use, feel free to add your comments below. Aånd with luck, my original writer won’t think I’m ignorant in not replying, just a victim of modern technology. Perhaps I should have written a letter…