Leaving Your Mark on the Web

There are a lot of photographs out there. Photo sharing and album network Flickr alone reckons it hit the 6 billion image upload mark last year. If you consider Picasa, Facebook, and the current darling known as Instagram, we’re talking gazillions of images floating around — all freely downloadable.

Couple this relatively new phenomenon with an entire generation’s apparent total lack of comprehension of copyright law, and it may be time to start protecting your work.

If you’re spending time honing your craft, you’re making an investment. Protect this investment by restricting the use of your images. You can do this with a simple watermark. A watermark lets users sample the “comp” image in their mock-up. You can then release a non-watermarked version when, or more likely if, they hand over some money.

Protect Yourself

Even if you’re not selling images, one day you might. Your images are an asset. Adding a watermark can be accomplished quickly, while you are making basic image edits like crops and so on. You can find detailed instructions and screen shots at All Things Photography.

If you have images in cyberspace that haven’t been watermarked, there are tools to find stolen work too.

Add a Watermark

Open the image in any photo-editing program on your PC. Adobe Photoshop and Photoshop Elements are two common programs for this.

Fit the image to the screen. In Photoshop versions, choose “View” and “Fit on Screen.”

Click on the Text tool button. It’s usually labeled with a “T” icon.

Choose the font from the fonts available. Keep things simple, because anything elaborate will detract from your image. The idea is to sell the image, not the watermark. I have used black Arial set to Bold at 36 points and I type my name. You can include an email address too.

Open the “Layers” window and select the layer you’re working on. Look for the “Opacity” slider and reduce the opacity to 10 percent. This will have the effect of making the watermark fade to gray.

watermark screen shot

Save the File in Low Resolution

Save the file as a 72 dpi comp version by using the “File” and “Save as” option rather than “Save.”

The idea is to keep your full resolution original archived, and to upload the layer-flattened, watermarked version to be freely stolen in the hope it creates a sale. A 72 dpi resolution is unusable in print, but looks fine on screen.

Set up an “Action” to automate watermark creation if you are using Photoshop itself, rather than the stripped down Elements version. Actions are in the Windows area in the full version.

Reverse Search

Perform a reverse search for images you own. If you suspect a previously uploaded, non-watermarked image has value, you can perform an image search to see if it’s being used around the Web. This is also a great way to see where your sold images are being used — legitimately and not.

Browse to the Tineye website and upload the image in question. Tineye’s algorithms will provide possible matches. Tineye is free for non-commercial purposes, and you can donate too.

Stolen Camera Finder

Stolencamerfinder is a Web-based search engine that looks for the Exchangeable Image File Format (EXIF) metadata embedded in images.

EXIF metadata is provided by some cameras, and includes the serial number of the camera among other things. I was unable to get results with Stolencamerafinder due to camera type and editing that had wiped the metadata — but theoretically, under certain circumstances, you should be able to find images across the Web that contain the EXIF data from your camera and, thus, stolen images.

Want to Ask a Tech Question?

Is there a piece of tech you’d like to know how to operate properly? Is there a gadget that’s got you confounded? Please send your tech questions to me, and I’ll try to answer as many as possible in this column.

And use the Talkback feature below to add your comments!

Patrick Nelson has been a professional writer since 1992. He was editor and publisher of the music industry trade publication Producer Report and has written for a number of technology blogs. Nelson studied design at Hornsey Art School and wrote the cult-classic novel Sprawlism. His introduction to technology was as a nomadic talent scout in the eighties, where regular scrabbling around under hotel room beds was necessary to connect modems with alligator clips to hotel telephone wiring to get a fax out. He tasted down and dirty technology, and never looked back.

1 Comment

  • Sigh.. Problem isn’t that no one understands copyright, its that some understand it all too well, and some others don’t understand just how bloody stupid pushing it as far as they do goes. Two cases – 1. A cassette I have, you can’t find on CD, or any place else any more. Its just gone. I AM sure the company still has the thing some place, but it wasn’t too popular, so, as far as the are concerned, it doesn’t exist, and never should have. By some estimates, there are old films, from the 50s, which are vanishing like this, with the original media they are on literally falling apart in warehouses, at a rate of dozens of a year, and accelerating. Why? Because the companies that own them won’t copy them, and no one else can afford to buy the rights.

    That is copyright in an age where "content", even old content, like old movies, is so vast that to back it up you would have to have nearly every person alive on the planet spend at least a week making copies, just to that 1/4 of us could have some hope of ever seeing it again.

    And, what is happening? Instead of making it easier for things to get into public domain, or otherwise protecting our ability to save any of it, for future generations, we treat it all as disposable, like its a plastic basket, you buy from the laundry isle in Walmart, and Scotus actually said, "Its perfectly OK to rob the public of existing public works, by re-copyrighting them." WTF?

    Case 2 – Copyright fear, and software lunacy. The law still says, in theory, that you can "reverse engineer" something. There are problems with that though. A recent discussion, as of the last few years, on a game world called "Second Life" involved "procedural textures". They have automatic copyright on textures, you see, so logically any "procedural" one has to have the same protections. Only.. by procedural, it means that you are using basic, reproducible, math, to define what the texture looks like. This is roughly the equivalent of trying to copyright/trademark ***a specific triangle***, but all instances of triangles. Its that bloody absurd, and they know it. So.. No procedural textures, since you can’t protect something that someone can reproduce (or rather, reverse engineer, like a computer program) with trivial ease. Rather than state that its not possible to protect it, they simply don’t let anyone use it at all. Logical from a legal standpoint, sort of.. but its a disaster for people building things, who understand why it doesn’t make sense to protect it. And, the ones that don’t get this, don’t like it either, so everyone is equally unhappy.

    This is, in some respects, coming to a head with projects like the RepRap in the real world too. If you can "print" your own circuit boards, wiring, plastic parts, etc… Well, how major/trivial does the change you make to something need to be, for it to be "new"? At what point is some idiot going to simply try to ban the technology, because it becomes trivial for someone with one of them, some basic materials, and a computer, with some 3D design software, to print a new coffee cup, instead of buying it from the store? How do you police 6 billion people, to make sure none of them are violating copyright, making too similar products, or trading "designs" that belong to some company that wants to charge $50 for something 1 billion of the people, assuming everyone had a machine, on the planet could "design" with the software in a few hours time themselves, and print? Where do you draw the line, when its trivial to copy, or reproduce, or make yourself, something, between "copyright", and just being a greedy asshole, who thinks they deserve every dime they can scrape out of everyone else’s pockets (possibly, like the MPAA, while relegating the original creator to 4th class status in the process)?

    The law keeps trying to hold back the tide, instead of adapting to the reality of what is going on. Why? Because, dealing with reality might mean making half a billion a year, instead of a billion. Its simpler, in the short term, to panic, and try to stop people with increasingly larger and larger numbers of computers, from doing what they did 30 years ago with cassette tapes, or the like. But, at some point, there are diminishing returns, when you treat your customers like idiots, and don’t provide decent alternatives, at a sane price. The magazine industry has been figuring that out of a decade now. It only gets worse when you have to compete against people providing similar content, intentionally, for free, and their information is actually more up to date, and accurate. Bad news, all around, for people that think copyright is a hammer, to hit customers with, and not something, as originally intended, to provide "short term" protection, to establish a new product/business, before someone else got a crack at it too.

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