If you are a digital content creator, you rely on the rules and standards of the internet to get by. However, many of those rules can be broken. The rules of identity, anonymity, and ownership work differently in a place where anyone can use your name, your face and claim what should be your image. Art theft is easier online with digital-first pictures than it is in real life. All someone needs is a mouse to click with and a place to put any image they find. Then, to claim it, they just have to say it’s theirs.
This is why watermarks are vital to maintaining the integrity of artistic ownership online. For hobbyists, professionals or companies that deal in artistic assets, watermarking is the safest tool to use against the endless front of art thieves in the world.
What Are Watermarks
A “watermark” refers to an old technique where signatures, sigils or prints of some kind were stained into documents as a proof of where they came from which couldn’t be replicated or replaced with ink. It’s a marking made at the time when the paper itself was manufactured, as proof of where it originated. The term has taken a new meaning in the digital era.
Now, watermarks are usually embedded within the image to associate them with an owner. This can be a company which produces graphics professionally, or the signature of the individual. It goes toward more than just claiming ownership.
Watermarks also offer a legal proof of origin. It’s hard to copy the watermarks on paper. It’s not at all hard to copy an image, save it and reupload it under a different account. This is how the majority of art theft is done online.
Digital watermarks can be as simple as adding a name into the image, or by superimposing a name or graphic over the entire image. When it’s done right, it’s done in a way that can’t be edited around, so any thief will end up showing the watermark proving that it doesn’t belong to them. Furthermore, that ownership extends to proprietary rights as well. A watermarked image can’t be used for commercial purposes without the permission of the owner.
How Watermarks Are Used for Business
A business which creates its own assets may end up seeing them somewhere else, copied and pasted from their website to another. Once the image is taken, getting it taken down isn’t easy. If you add watermark to photo, it clearly establishes its ownership and will direct the people who see it on the wrong website back to its origin.
There are companies which exist because of this system of watermarking, who produce thousands of generic images depicting scenarios or made to provoke certain responses once shown. These are known as “stock images”. They display these images with watermarks that go across the image in an obtrusive way that’s nearly impossible to remove with picture editing software, but they have non-watermarked versions of these images on the backend out of public availability. They can sell the non-watermarked images on a license for people to use with their own content. From there, the image maintains its trademark ownership as a means of the transaction.
At a much smaller level, freelance artists may offer watermarked versions of their art for display purposes. This can include a signature, or an overimposed graphic which slightly blocks the image itself. This can be done with digital art or photography so that the artist can share their work online with a much minimized risk of it being stolen without their permission. Many art thieves rely on bots to automatically download and then upload images posted on social media websites. Watermarks can turn those automated content thiefs into automated marketing tools.
Additionally, this allows freelancers a degree of control over their own content. If they produce a draft of an image they were hired to produce to a client who then takes it and cancels the rest of their contracted payment, the artist is out hours of work with no pay. Asking for payment up front turns away customers who might want to work through revisions. So, many artists have chosen to impose watermarks over their images, clear enough to see the image but still present enough that it would be unusable without obtaining the non-watermarked version. This allows them to work through revisions without risking a client taking their art without paying – another form of art thievery made all too easy by the internet.
How to Watermark a Digital Image
There are different methods that can be used to place a functional watermark on an image for any application. Most image editing programs, such as PhotoShop, will allow users to place a layer which can be deleted in sales builds where the watermark is present. This is possibly the easiest way to do it, especially if the majority of work is being done in the program itself. For those with more traditional routes, uploading content straight from a phone camera, there are still ways to generate useful watermarks.
Online services will post a watermark of choice onto an image, allowing the user to claim it as their own before uploading it. Sites like WaterMarkly and VisualWatermark can apply watermarks in just minutes, saving users time from opening or downloading additional programs and learning how they work. They can then place the watermarks as they wish for any purpose, as a signature or as a true obscuring visual to make sure the image is not directly stolen.
Watermarking is a simple and essential step to protect assets online from the even simpler task of art theft. If the save image function of computers and phones is the biggest danger to online art, watermarks are the best defense.
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