Wednesday 9 January 2013

An easy way to watermark photographs

This blogger was interested to read a post on the Guardian Photography Blog today by photojournalist John D McHugh about his new app, Marksta, which adds watermarks to photographs. Whilst adding a watermark to a photograph is nothing new, the beauty of this app is that it enables users to add a text watermark (e.g. a Twitter name or website address), a logo, or the copyright symbol to their photos directly from an iPhone, before sharing the picture. The intention behind the app is to work with technology: the speed with which photos are disseminated using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc, and then the ease with which they are copied and re-posted using the same technology, means that photographs are often used without the photographer's consent or even knowledge. This app enables the photo to be attributed to the photographer so that, as McHugh says:

"If somebody wants to use the image commercially without the watermark, then they know exactly who to contact to arrange permission and payment. If the picture is uploaded to social media and becomes a viral hit then Marksta will ensure the photographer gets the credit."
Of course this doesn't prevent internet users from using the photographs without paying the photographer, but at least it attributes the photographs to the right person which is a step in the right direction.

McHugh goes on to comment that:
"With the British government threatening to erode the rights of photographers with new copyright laws, and the risk that unidentified photographs can be deemed "orphan works" and used without payment or credit, it is more important than ever that photographers (professional and amateur) protect their work.

There are also very real concerns that social media sites intend to take users' photographs for their own promotion and profit with no regard for intellectual property rights. Instagram has already been embroiled in controversy over a proposed change in its terms & conditions, which was widely interpreted as a rights grab."
We hear lots about the music and film industries' fight against online piracy however the discussion rarely seems to touch on photography. Online piracy of photographs is difficult to monitor and individual photographers often do not have the time or resources. Consumers are increasingly aware that not all photographs posted online are free for them to use (Creative Commons licences and Google's advanced image search can help to find those that are); this app is an inexpensive and easy way for photographers to reinforce that view.


Andy J said...

I'm all for anything which helps photographers to protect their IP, especially if it is simple to use, like an app. But until the law is changed to provide a similar degree of protection to any watermark as applies to so-called techncial measures (aka DRM) (section 296ZA et seq) then really this is only half the battle. At best a copyright owner can claim his right to make an adaption has been infringed if someone else removes or edits out the watermark, but there is no corresponding criminal sanction.
Photographers' pressure groups such as Stop 43 have been pressing for this for some time without success.
I am not familiar with Marksta but I don't think it embeds anything in the metadata of a digital image (like say, the Digimarc system) so, unfortunately, it does not assist in non-visual tracking of image use across the internet. Anyone who has used Tinyeye or the Google image search function will know that visual matching algorithms are fairly rudimentary at present and can be defeated by robots.txt tags.

Andy J said...

Apologies, that should be "tineye".