"Photographers who put their name across a photo to protect copyright aren't artists, they're hourly laborers with cameras instead of shovels"
It caused some very serious debate and got quite a few people quite ignited. It was a reaction to a photo I saw on a friend's Facebook page; a quite lovely wedding photo that was pretty well composed and shot, with a garish red copyright notice across the middle of the image. I thought to myself "Wow, what a shame a beautiful image was made ugly by greed." And it made me realize that the guy who took the photo probably spent years learning and honing his craft. He has probably spent several thousands of dollars on his equipment. He probably takes his work very seriously. He definitely takes nice photos.
But his work is not art. It's commerce. It's labor. It's making a product. If it were art, his primary concern would not be how it was used, it would be that it was seen.
Here's an exempt from the most popular thing I've ever written, The Wal-Mart Story. To date, it has been read over 20,000,000 times. That's TWENTY MILLION. I hope you enjoy:
Right. Stupid, huh? Well, let me be very clear:
Photographer Trey Ratcliff -- who not only takes some pretty snazzy photos, but does QUITE well professionally selling his photography to clients and teaching courses -- has this to say about the practice of using watermarks:
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 http://www.StuckInCustoms.com , 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.
This also goes for writing, illustration, music, movies and everything else. If you're making a product, it's fine. Make a product. Sell your product. Just don't call it "Art."
Just because someone takes your image and uses it on their website does not mean they would have bought it from you in the first place. They aren't your customer because they used your image. They just plain used your image.
On Selling Your Art
Now, some simpletons like to convolute my sentiments of art vs. commerce. They leap to the conclusion that I don't think you should be able to sell your art or make money with it. That's ludicrous. It used to be insulting, until I realized only fucking morons think this, and the last thing I'm concerned with is the opinions of fucking morons.
Selling your art isn't impure. Selling out isn't when you sell your art, it's when you make what you're paid to make.
And I need to stress -- THERE IS NOTHING AT ALL WRONG WITH SELLING OUT. Make money, son. Get paid, preferably in cash. Use what you got to get that loot. I'm all for it. I am happy as hell when an artist can make money doing what they love.
I also think that there's absolutely art that goes into doing commissions, production work and so on. I believe that, when given the latitude, artists will find a way to take what they've been asked to do for money and insert their own visions and ideas into it. But when you begin taking direction which limits your expression, and you are reduced to using your talent to make what you've been told to make, you're not making art, you're making product.
Likewise, when your goal with your work is to cash out, you may be using your artistic talent to make it, but what you've made is not art. It's product. If that statement insults you, you need to realign your perception and consider what it is you're doing, and why being called a laborer (with a camera, a paint brush, a pencil or otherwise) hurts your feelings.
Yes, artists should get paid for their art. Yes, I absolutely believe that a true artist can and should sell their work. But I can tell you that every true artist I've ever met didn't give a rat's ass about having their painting photographed at a convention or on the street, or having their photos shared with other people, or having their stories copied and pasted for others to read -- so long as they received attribution.
** Update 9:30 AM **
How else should I phrase this? I don't think selling your art means you're not an artist. I don't think signing your work means you're not an artist. I don't think working for a client doing the work you do for pay means you're not an artist.
I think ruining what you make in order to "protect" it violates the spirit of sharing art because it puts commerce and ownership first. It is not artistic. The work is not art. The producer is not an artist.
As for watermarking: My good friend and professional photographer Jim Messerfish put together this very simple illustration to explain to people what I'm talking about: