Let Them Steal

In Creativity and Inspiration, Pep Talks, Rants and Sermons, The Craft, The Life Creative by David66 Comments

Some days my time online makes it seem like photographers spend more time making watermarks than they do making photographs. So as it’s been a while since I’ve allowed myself a rant, let me weigh in with my opinions about the theft of images. But first a caveat. Yes, copyright laws matter. Yes, you should register your work. Yes, you should pick your battles and pursue thieves when it counts. And yes, people that steal are the same kinds of people that kick kittens. Of course I’ve also known a lot of photographers that go on and on about people stealing their work – work tweaked on stolen software and put into slideshows using music they’ve no rights to…

I also know not everyone’s going to agree with me; I’m bringing this up to ask important questions. Your answers will be your own.


People are going to steal your work. They always have. They always will. And each time it happens your eyes will cloud over with the red mist. I get it. But when that anger forces you to engage in a battle that consumes your creative energy, it can destroy the creative flow you’ve worked so hard to achieve. Win the battle, lose the war. Same thing with watermarks. By all means, subtly watermark your images – in Canada there are new court rewards if someone removes a watermark – but I’ve seen watermarks so large and ugly they ruin the photograph. What’s the point in posting it at all? You might as well just make ugly photographs. No one will steal those either.  And once again, the same thing with posting images online that are the size of a postage stamp. No one will steal them because no one can see them.

To be an artist means you create something and put it into the world. The rest is out of your hands. It will be experienced by people you never anticipated. It will be adored and reviled, which is better than simply being ignored. It will be criticized. It will be interpreted in ways you never intended. And it will be stolen.

We all do this work for different reasons. But most of us do not do it so we can spend our days in paranoia and anger, preventing theft and chasing down violators. For most of us, our problem is not that people are stealing our work but that too few people are seeing it. So let them steal. Hell, make it easy for them to steal. Put a tasteful watermark on your work so people can find you and then throw it into the wind and hope to God that someone with a larger audience than you puts it on Pinterest. Let people use it when they ask, and when it feels right let them do it for free.

I know, free is a bad word too.

When did we all get so consumed with greed and paranoia and self-righteousness? When did we ever do our best work when possessed by those forces? Of course it’s your right not to be stolen from. But how you respond to that is your decision, and affects your work.

There’s an old saying: “You can’t steal something from me that I willingly give you.” It has its limits, of course, but how much happier would we be, how much stronger would our own work be, and how much more would people enjoy seeing our work, if we remained committed to the idea of art as a gift. Some will pay for my work, some will not, and others will steal it. Either way, the gift keeps moving.

Time and again I’ve seen people thrive when they believe in abundance, generosity, and picking their battles very, very carefully. And I’ve seen people consumed, bound, and floundering when they’ve embraced the opposite. It’s counter-intuitive, I know. And there’s a time and a place for free. But experience suggests to me that the ones that are most consumed by this stuff are the ones that can’t afford to be. I’ll worry about theft if, God help me, I become complacent and resting on my laurels and my past work is my best, and most valuable, asset. In the meantime I’ll spend my energy doing what I love: creating my work and sharing it.


I’m off to Venice this morning, and will be in Italy photographing and teaching until May 04. As always I’ll send postcards as I can. When I’m back the book, SEVEN, goes to the bindery and I start packing for the Grizzly trip in the Khutzeymateen in Northern British Columbia.

Speaking of free, did you get your free copy of Craft & Vision’s latest eBook? Craft & Vision 2, More Great Ways to Make Stronger Photographs is available completely free here, and if you missed the first one, there’s also a bundle with both. All together it’s 20 great ways to improve your photography, all without spending a penny.


  1. I am wondering how many of the people who agree that its ok for people to steal thier images are actually selling their work – I’m guessing not many.

  2. I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiments… “You can’t steal something from me that I willingly give you.”

    The only way to effectively stop your images from being stolen is to keep them all to yourself. This kind of defeats the object of taking them.

  3. For the people relatively new to photography, I’d just like to point out that David’s view is very much the minority amongst photographers. Many photographers – particularly stock photographers – have seen large drops in their income over recent years, and to see people using their images for free is not exactly helping matters. Watermarks and so on may help in a small way to lead people to the original photographer – but more likely, the perpetuation of the idea that photographs can be used on the internet for free is causing more damage than benefit.

    Stealing photographs remains just the same as stealing physical objects – an activity that should be regarded as criminal.

  4. I would agree to disagree to “Let them steal.” If you don’t fight back, it sets a bad precedent to copyright infringers that “we can just steal photos on the net because these small photographers don’t have the resources to fight.” Case in point: DKNY stealing photos for their ad campaign: http://www.lizkuball.com/blog/13748922

    Big companies can afford and have budgets to pay photographers but they know most small photographers won’t have the guts to fight back.

    Like David said above, everyone should register copyrights to their photographs. It’s not that expensive yet many are that lazy to do so or think no ones going to steal. ASMP offers a free guide to protect your work: http://asmp.org/free/guide-crcf

    The reason why you should register your copyrights is you can sue for punitive damages and also for the court fees. If you feel someone is profiting off your work, hire an attorney. If you can’t afford one and the case is a slam dunk, give them a cut of the punitive damages.

    And if you don’t want to take the legal route just yet, you can put people to shame at this blog: http://stopstealingphotos.tumblr.com/
    You’ll be surprised how many “wannabe” photographers steal others work for their own portfolio to get clients. Some steal photos and submit them to competition or professional review at major photographic conferences.

    As for watermarks, if creatively used properly (not splattered all over the image), it can be very attractive to the viewer. Not only is it a watermark but it can act as a “brand” logo as well (Think of NIKE “swoosh”).

    Also, those who are jumping on the band wagon to upload full-resolution on Google plus are asking for images to be stolen for commercial gain.

    Lastly, for me, fine art photography is worthless on the web until it becomes tangible.

  5. It takes a great photographer to take such a stand. In my opinion; those who whine the most about their rights are most of the time not the best photographers.

  6. OK, so how is my original comment that is awaiting moderation different??

    Sorry for the beta testing. 😉

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  8. Hi David,
    I enjoy reading your post and all your photography! I am actually waiting for the time you will have a gathering in Vancouver… Thank you for this post and I couldn’t agree with it more. I was actually thinking about watermarking my photographs but my gut instinct is against it so I haven’t done it and don’t think I will in the future. I think the same, if someone thinks my photos are great and takes one and it goes viral then so bit it 🙂
    take care and keep up the great work!

  9. Completely agree, there really isn’t anything you can do these days. I normally find that when people share or use my work they have no idea that they are not meant to use it without asking for permission, I don’t mind people using my work for somethings as long as they ask! Multinational companies using images when they know better and make money from them is however a completely different story.

    I still have an automatic watermark on my main website but flickr/facebook/twitter are all watermark free

  10. Pingback: Don't Let Them Steal | Ben Chase Photography

  11. I just wrote to someone on FB re: a beautiful work of art they had posted and asked if they knew who the artist was so I could give credit where credit is due. I just want credit for my photo, although looking back, I would surely erase many of them. Keep smiling, and thanks for writing this article-food for thought.

  12. David, agree, agree, agree. If you’re going to share, and you take reasonable actions to do it smartly, then share and be impressed with the response… I share because I love what I do.
    A new situation for me just yesterday was an actual fellow photographer/friend who grabbed one of my Newfoundland images from a trip I worked very hard for, and at, and re-processed the stolen image HIMSELF! From colour to B&W… then couldn’t wait to tell me how incredible it now looked over my version of the image… it felt like he stomped all over my intent and vision for the image, not to mention how he obviously felt about my skills… and it’s a current file David… one I’m still releasing work from.
    Would love some advice on this situation… lol.

  13. I agree David. i’ve been on some sites where the photographer has created beautiful images and the watermark are splattered ove rthe center of the image. I don’t visit any longer because I don’t get enjoyment looking at photographers while trying to imagine what they’d look like without the watermark. Have a safe trip and stay off any high walls 🙂

  14. Interestingly, one of the most commercially successful–and artistically talented–photographers right now is Trey Ratcliff, and all his work is licensed creative commons. So the two do not have to be mutually exclusive. The world is a big place–fill it with art!

  15. Sometimes easier said than done, but I’m sure you’re right – when I was at University, more moon s ago than I care to count, and I found people passing off my ideas as their own, I used to think a) that’s a compliment, and b) I know i can have another 10 just as good – maybe they couldn’t – I actually found it motivated me to keep on thinking, keep on coming up with fresh stuff – I think the same is true of photography, as you say – as long as your best image is the next one you take, and you protect those that are unrepeatable, the rest is just sharing – even if somebody makes money out of one of you pictures, they can only do it because of an opportunity you missed, so maybe you can learn something. Easier to say when it’s not your livelihood but again, as you suggest – if you want to spend you whole life n court, maybe you should retrain as a lawyer.

  16. David:

    I follow you and read your books because you articulate what I feel is important in being an artist. I sell maybe a dozen prints a year, and I am by no means a famous photographer. This does not mean that I don’t value my craft. On the contrary I do. But I post on my blog and my Facebook Site so that I can share and write about my images. I do not watermark, though many say I should, because I don’t want to clutter up the image. I try to craft the very best image for display on screen. I do so because I want to share the best image I can. If someone takes it then they probably needed it more than me. I do not want to waste my energy tracking them down, sicking the lawyers on them, or engaging in generally negative back and forth. Maybe one day the images will come back to me on the wind like a message in a bottle. And maybe they will have travelled about and brought joy to someone. That would be great, I think. thanks for writing this and giving teeth to my inner feelings on this subject.

  17. I’m still waiting for someone to steal any of my work so I can be proud 🙂

    I don’t care if anyone steals my images. Go ahead, if it feeds the mouths of your children, then you are welcome to do so. I think what irks me about the whole thing is that when clients get ripped off in the process. They see stunning images on the photographer’s website, hire them on that merit, then what they receive are completely different to what they were expecting. It’s not me who loses out on the process if they steal my photos; it’s the deceived paying clients that do and this makes me angry.

    Right – back to making images for me. Got a lot of work to do to improve my skills so one day, my images are theft worthy 🙂

  18. David, you don’t mind, if I put here torrent links to your e-books, do you? Just to help you put the e-books in the world and be shared, of course.
    Of course, it was a bad joke. I don’t intend to put any torrent links, I don’t know of any torrent to your books and I don’t use torrents at all. But…
    But here is the point. You are not living from selling your photos to stocks, ads or magazines, so stealing your images doesn’t steal anything valuable for you, doesn’t make you any harm. And what about photogs trying to live from stocks and editorial photos?
    Would you write the same about stealing, if your e-books were stolen instead of bought?
    (Of course, I see difference between picture stolen by a teenager, who puts it on his private webpage, and stolen by a commercial service or company, who uses it to make money.)

    1. Piotr, David’s ebooks are on torrents all the time. I’ve notified him of this once and he knows about the issue, but he chose not to waste his time on chasing the thieves but instead, he chose to write them off as “gifts”. Not saying he was happy about the situation, but you know, you choose your battles and this is just one of them not worth pursuing for him.

      His time is valuable. He’d actually lose more money trying to pursue every website stealing his work (imagine how much he is worth per hour) than just leaving things be.

      1. Grace, I agree. Fighting torrents is not worthy time and efforts. But as much as I am fan of David, the call to “let them steal” in the mouths of someone, who is not living from selling pictures, sounds false to me.

        1. How could he not be making a living from his photos? He’s a photographer who gets hired on the merit of his work. If his images were less than impressive, do you think he would be doing what he does now?

          Just because he doesn’t sell stock photos doesn’t mean he doesn’t earn from his images. It’s his images that makes him the hireable, sellable, marketable photographer and book author than he is now.

          1. Grace, he sells directly to clients. Any thieft, even of commercial work, is not his problem, but problem of his clients.
            I agree, stolen photos are giving David exposition, which makes him more recognisable and valuable to paying clients. I could say, stealing of his works works for him – as long, as they are properly credited.
            Unfortunately, stock photogs don’t have as comfortable perspective to their stolen photos.

          2. Grace, I seriously doubt David makes the majority of his income from selling photos anymore. I imagine his income comes from workshops, books and Craft & Vision. If that’s the case, then his images on the web are merely marketing giveaways. In essence, he’s saying “steal my business card”.

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  20. It all sounds lovely in the abstract. “Live and let live,” “don’t sweat the small stuff” – it’s all small stuff – and give without expectations. I’m not convinced that you would take the theft of your images so nonchalantly.

  21. David, you are wise beyond your years. Your thought processes and ability to communicate the essence of an issue is remarkable. Those who do not read you are missing a wonderful mind. Thank you, sir.

  22. Here’s an academic stance that maybe someone with a legal background can elaborate on;

    On the assumption we are dealing with copyright infringement (theft) then the two (legal) points that arise are:
    1. Proof of infringement – establishing ownership
    2. Establishing the damages quantum

    1. Whilst a watermark may be a deterrent, assuming it’s not so hideous as to obscure the image it can probably be cropped out and/or in some cases sorted with a bit of ‘content aware fill’. Therefore does it carry any more legal value than embedding copyright details in the exif data? Assuming we are shooting RAW and do some post work (another wonderful online debate) and put a jpeg on the web then a simple ‘Your Honour/Worship, exhibit A, my Lightroom catalogue with the original RAW file’ will sort that issue.

    2. Which brings us to the quantum. ‘The accused published it on their Facebook page where it was seen by their close family, 2 ex lovers and 547 friends whom they have never actually met in person’. Clearly this is not going to make litigation or settlement history!
    Now if it was used on the front cover of National Geographic it’s a whole different game. That said with all the in-house council every image needs a release.

    So my non-legal conclusion is if you want to use an image of mine for something minor or not hugely commercial, go wild, it would be nice if you dropped me mail, stroked my ego and gave me a credit, buy me a beer.
    If you want to use it seriously commercially, that’s cool I’ll send you an invoice.

    We need to chill and avoid the risk of being so far up our own fundamentals that we cant see the sun shine. Chances are if you’ve just captured something so iconic you’re in negotiation with publishers and not posting it on the web.

    1. 100% spot on.

      I’m not from the US so I don’t know about registering copyrights, but if I see an image I produced being used in an illegitimate manner, I send them a heavy invoice. If they don’t pay I send the invoice to a debt collection agency that works on contingency. Either way there is no outlay from my end so I have everything to gain and nothing to lose.

      If the offending user of an image decides to defend their action in court then the burden of proof of ownership falls to them.

  23. I completely agree with everything you stated. I even go a step further and put Creative Commons licensing on almost all my photographs, to make free use explicit (with specific limitations: attribution, non-commercial, no-derivatives).

    I also *register* my copyrights. You can’t bring legal action (at least in the U.S.) if you haven’t actually registered your copyright, so putting any watermark on your image won’t do you much good if someone big enough to sue actually does make commercial use of your images.

    My philosophy:

    * Register copyrights
    * Watermark work discreetly
    * Share non-commercially for free

    1. Yes you can still bring legal action if the images aren’t registered but the payouts aren’t as high. It does NOT mean you cannot though.

      1. The problem is, if you haven’t registered you can’t claim legal fees from the infringer, you can if you have registered.

  24. I can see both sides of the argument, but on balance I think it’s best not to get obsessed over it. The bottom line is be careful what you post with regard to your important work.

  25. I’m always interested in this debate and the various factions who weigh in. I suppose I watermark so people will know the images are mine – I’m proud of them, I care about them, I label them. One of my favourite images ever was posted to a popular photography site through a contest and it’s forever lost any connection to its origins through hundreds of shares on Pinterest and Tumbler. I wish I had some way to go back and take back ownership of it. I don’t mind the pinning and sharing, but the unattributed sharing makes me sad.

    Great to see your thoughts on this, though, and the other comments.

  26. Hello David, you are very informative, I am a new photographer in online world, and finding my place in the cyberspace world. I enjoyed reading your blog and enjoy your photo. Oh by the way, are you single? Enjoy your trip and be safe.

  27. Thoughtful article David.

    When I was doing ceramics, I had my own gallery on the Big Island of Hawaii and occasionally folks who looked and “felt” a lot like clay artists would come in with cameras.

    My view was that by the time they copied what I was creating, I would be on to something different, plus you can copy, but that doesn’t mean you will be able to do it with the same skills or vision.

    If a person was using an image of mine for commercial purposes and I discovered it, I would take action and I do register all my images, but if they’re not getting financial rewards for it, well, I’m not going to worry about it.

    I also agree that it is totally unpleasant to view images with huge, distracting copyright symbols on it and besides anyone can remove them with just a little effort and knowledge.

    Just my two cents & thanks for the thoughtful article on a very relevant subject.

    Have a great trip and don’t eat too much over there! 😉

  28. This argument is so tired and worn out it makes me weary just thinking about it!

    Here’s the thing: putting your photographs on the internet is like baking a batch of cookies and leaving them on a table in the middle of a very busy airport terminal. You want people to see them, taste them and rave about them, but you don’t want them to take them off the table and put them on another table somewhere else in the airport, because that’s stealing in your mind.

    But is it really?

    Depends on what the other table is doing with them. If they are selling them, then yes, you have been shafted and you should do something about it. But if they are just “out there” you should look at this as being an opportunity, just like David says.

    Every one of those images is like a billboard for your photography, so make it count. Put a watermark in there that shows where the image originated. Align it with something you do commercially. The more people who see the image, the more chances you have of somebody contacting you to do business with you.

    And if you really don’t want anyone to download your images then you got no business putting them online in the first place, because if you’re looking at it in a browser, guess what, it’s already been downloaded to your browser and is in the cache files.

  29. …you’re more or less my Seth Godin in the photography world…always putting thoughts I have bouncing around in my head….into words that just make sense. Thanks for all that you do.

  30. Yes, my images have been used without my consent, too. It’s something everybody who shows photographs on the internet will experience.

    But then, think about this sentence from Shota Rustaveli, a Georgian poet from 800 years ago:

    “What you hide – this disappears, what you give – this is yours”

    So when I create, I want to get my work out in the world.

  31. David, great comments. As a “non-professional”, even though I have sold prints and been published, I agree with what you have said. I consider my images as a gift to be used. I had to evolve to this point as I too have had my images used without permission. I do have options for people to donate to a cause. Obviously, there are those who use their love of photography as an income. As I have sat here considering some of the other comments, there is an argument to be made that people like me could hinder the income generation of those who rely on it. That’s if my work is considered to be at a similar level. 🙂

  32. While I tend to agree with you for the most part, David, if a photographer is a photographer because that’s their chosen profession, career, and livelihood, their desire to protect their work should not be lessened by this debate. Why not also decry people who lock the doors of their homes or their cars? I don’t know of any restaurants, doctors or auto mechanics who “brand” their services and products then allow free use (theft) without pursuing some recompense if it does happen. If they do offer free stuff, it’s on their own terms, just as it should be with photographers and other artists. We shouldn’t be “required” to give up or give in just because people love our work so much they’d rather not pay to have it. While I also agree art is an important component of a healthy society, why are artists compelled to “gift” their livelihood to that society and others are not? Honestly, I (and other artists, probably) would do this for free if I could live without money. Perhaps artists should be exempt from paying for anything in return for gifting their work to the world. I’d go for that.

    I know this is an old, old debate, and I do watermark my images so people know who the maker is, not really for theft avoidance because, as you say, if they want it they’ll take it. Just like locking your doors when you go out doesn’t deter the determined thief. I do agree that obnoxious watermarks are overkill (Would you like a photograph with that watermark, sir?). During a workshop I attended in 2001 led by Jay Maisel, during an image review session I showed some images with watermarks (during a workshop, yes) and Jay stopped and told everyone he didn’t know why anyone who posted their work online would not watermark their work, simply for the ability to be able to identify the owner, if nothing else. So, I see no downside and I don’t really care if someone doesn’t like it. It’s my work and if they want to purchase a photo for themselves I’m happy to provide them with one minus the watermark. The watermark also becomes the only identifying, traceable, means to find the owner when embedded metadata is removed (by services like Facebook, for example).

    There is the distinction between professional and amateur photographers as it relates to watermarks and interest in copyright protection. But more often these days companies are approaching amateurs, using their work, for the very inexpensive fees (if any at all) amateurs are willing to accept (because they are uninformed).

    I’ve also wrestled with the “clients hate watermarks” issue. Some art buyers hate to see them (just like they hate websites with black backgrounds). Again, if the mark is obnoxious, I understand. But I feel less inclined to remove them from my website display. If they want comps they can have a watermark-free image via the download process.

    There will always be two groups in this debate. I prefer to be identified for my work when the purpose of my posting work is to easily identify the work as belonging to me. Watermarking might afford some small amount of theft protection, but even if the photo is used and the watermark retained, I am still identified as the owner of that image and that is more important than “sharing”.

  33. I was once super opposed to watermarking until I was convinced that a small signature with meaningful contact information could be beneficial in a sea of google search results. Whether that is true or not – I have no idea.

    I believe many see digital theft as harmless as making a mixed tape but those same people that so quickly copy other types of media are the first ones to stand on the mountain top when someone copies one of their images (often created with that pirated copy of xyz)

  34. I’ve only had one image that I know of, stolen from me. IOt was an image that I posted on my PBase account seven or eight years ago. I had taken photos at a Music Aid Northwest charity concert, and I had a great shot of Stephenwolf keyboardist, Goldy McJohn. Another musician and friend of Goldy’s called me and told me that Goldy had really like the image, and asked me if they could buy a print so that they could give it to Goldy as a gift. Needless to say I was honored that Goldy had like the image, so I gave them the print which they had framed and given to Goldy.

    A few years later I was watching TV one night and I saw a commercial advertising a concert in our area featuring Goldy McJohn and Friends, and there was my shot of Goldy, large and in charge on the TV. I cold have been upset, and maybe I was for just an instant, but then here’s this world class musician that thinks enough of my image that he uses it on a TV commercial. So, I just settled with flattered, and left it at that. And the image is still there, on Goldy’s webpage. And I’m okay with that. Choose your battles.

  35. I have to thank you for posting this… I’m a novice photographer, but I am learning extremely fast… I used to post my pictures on Facebook until (it’s kind of silly) my sister started stealing pictures of my daughter… Now, I know, you’re probably thinking “Hey that’s family, they should have free range (especially with children)”… But it angered me that she didn’t even ask… After all, I’m trying to make a name for myself… More so, it angered me that where ever she got them printed, printed them with my watermark on them, and no permission from me… But now that you say it like you did, I’m now going to go and put my images back on Facebook… I feel that if I put the matadata in the picture, that maybe someday it will come back to me… So I thank you for opening my eyes to see it differently… Here’s a link to my pictures if you want to see them http://www.viewbug.com/member/timreed
    or on Facebook
    God bless!!!

  36. David – you are on the enlightened path…some will follow

    thank you for showing the way…

  37. A sage piece of advice from my Dad in my early years, “don’t lend money to someone unless you can afford not to get it back” I.e be prepared to not get it back and save yourself a lot of heartache. Same with posting online, don’t put it there if you are not prepared for someone to “use” it without ur permission. Agree 100% with your sentiment David.

  38. Also – these aren’t the Pulitzer winning photos we’re talking about! No one is wanting to ‘steal’ those photos in question 😛

    And if you’re pricing your work to include the actual photos you shoot for clients, why not? Personally I don’t want to waste more time later trying to upsell my clients files and prints and junk. Sure I stress that my lab will make better prints and I hope they use it, but it’s not a huge markup. As a photographer I get paid to shoot and edit and deliver, the end. That’s the way I like it 🙂 Let someone else waste time policing the internet,

  39. I’m of the same mind as David on this. The internet is a big place and if you put work on it then you have to be prepared that someone somewhere will copy it and display it as there own. If they can sleep at night doing so let them get on with it. They know and we know that it does not improve their own creativity (if they had any to start with) and sooner or later they will be found out and flammed. I’ve seen so many on facebook where people have set up accounts and filled it with pictures that don’t belong to them. It’s life, get over it. best way to look at it is you should be honoured they thought yours was good enough to pinch and claim as their own 🙂

  40. I agree.. I’ve never watermarked my web samples that I share — and had more than 1 client thank me in review about it!

    My philosophy (for client work) is that it’s their photo. They hired me, I made it for them, etc. (even though I retain copyright).

    Too many bad compositions out there with awkward copy space JUST to fit the watermark in 🙁

    1. For the items I care about, I watermark and only post small versions online. I also right-click protect as much as possible and set the perms on my site to prevent theft.

      Having said that, there is no foolproof method of protection. Someone could always take a screenshot. But at least I’m doing everything I can to make it difficult.

      The fine art world is very, very different than your commercial one.

      1. Mark (and David)

        I had a big comment all written up about how this is quite similar to how it works in the software world….

        First up, I assume this is you: http://olwickphotography.com/

        (lovely photos, BTW)

        My point from my big rant was that if it’s on the internet, short of the usual route of taking people to court / asking them not to steal it / DMCA, _you can’t do anything about it_, except not put them there in the first place. If someone can view it on their computer, they can get it if they are persistent enough.

        The trick is to exploit the hell out of it if it happens.

        For example, it took me about 30 seconds in Chrome to get the 900×900 jpg’s off your Images section. I know I’m not a “normal” user, either, but it was using tools which ship with Chrome, IE9+, Firefox etc. Certainly enough to put on pinterest (better than most). Big enough for a nice background for my iPad.

        In the software world, a lot of people used to use extreme copy protection (80’s/90’s). You bought Autocad with a dongle (think USB key, but 10 years before USB existed), and if the dongle wasn’t on the computer, then it wouldn’t load.

        Took most crackers* about 30 mins to reverse that one. Some of them were a bit longer, but they fell, too. DVD is a classic one – it’s encrypted, but the key got out, eventually.

        By the time we got to 2000, most places had realised that just having a key, which is validated, was enough to stop the casual pirates, and that they would expend huge effort and money to try to get around the talented thieves, and they would never be able to stop them (think people who can – and do – attach oscilloscopes to computer chips….). Now it’s key + a call back to the companies servers, tho have a google around for how well that went for the recent SimCity release, or when microsoft leaked that the next xbox would stop working if your internet went out for more than 30 mins.

        So they mostly stopped, and just went with keys, which is almost the equivalent of watermarks and right-click blocking. Going on the past few IT booms, it appears to have worked quite well 🙂

        It’s a hard one. You DO have to protect your livelihood, but it has to balance with the effort expended in challenging people who steal it.

        * crackers != hackers and the media use of hacker != the computer industry use of it.

  41. Hello David,

    Loved your blog! I couldn’t agree more with your outlook on the subject. Actually it brought tears to my eyes. Not sure why, but it I would guess it’s because I sensed your true passion for the art and creative process in it’s purest form. Thank you, and thank you for the free download of Craft & Vision I & II !

    Warm regards.


  42. I guess I”m one of the ones that disagrees with this completely. Theft is theft. I’m not going out there making “gifts to the world”. I think that’s a pretty naive concept, especially if people are using your work for their own personal monetary gain.

    Of course if you’re out there firing off at 8FPS with your DSLR and post 10,000+ photos a year, then it likely won’t matter to you if 500 of those get stolen because it shows how you value them. I produce maybe 12 photos a year that I consider good. If someone steals those, there goes my reputation, my livelyhood, etc.

    1. It’s the inverse law of watermarking. The more dreadful the image the larger & bolder the watermark.

      As David notes above “..Put a tasteful watermark on your work so people can find you..” The key being tasteful. A large © the size of a darts board in a bar underscored by a name in a 17 gigapoint font is not an aesthetic to aspire to.

      PS Having looked at your site Mark, the watermarks are nice and subtle and the font very tasteful!

      1. Great piece David..I totally agree with you and loved Mr Burnstein’s remark about the inverse law of watermarking. The more dreadful the image the larger & bolder the watermark.

        Might have to “steal” that line!

    2. I think it depends also much on who steals your work and what it’s being used for.
      If a person steals it to use it as his desktop background or reshares it without pretending it is his own work it won’t hurt that much and is good marketing for most photographers. I’ve so often discovered new great photographers by putting a photo I liked on tumblr, or somewhere else, into google image search or tineye to figure out who made it.
      But it’s a whole different story when people make money with it. A few years ago here was a website which stole images from photo communities and sold them as art prints in their own shop.

      About FineArt:
      I might be wrong, but I guess most of them live from selling limited edition high quality prints and maybe books or calendars. Usually it should help to get new potential customers when the work gets shared a lot – shouldn’t it?
      Prints itself won’t be stolen easily. We all know that printing is more than just pressing a button – especially high quality prints. It begins already with the selection of the paper – that won’t be stolen/copied that easy.

      But I also think that the market is moving. There are commercial photographers who work for big companies and the ones who make their living mostly from teaching photography. The thing in between is slowing going away. It’s incredible what the mobile photography has done to the general interest of the public in photography.

  43. I used to heavily watermark my work, then I took it off, then I put a smaller and less visible watermark on my work, so that if people see my stuff elsewhere and like it, they know how to find me to see more of my stuff.

    I agree that people will steal stuff if they want it. And I personally know people that spend half their days ranting about people stealing their work and tracking down the culprits.

    I am of the mind that if I put something on the internet, then I need to be okay with people taking it. And I am.

    Because I DO see it as a gift. You gift me with your words and images, I can gift you with thoughtful responses, appreciation, sharing your art with people I know will love it. I gift everyone who visits my site in the same way – I love making art and I want to share my love for it – maybe it will inspire someone to make some art of their own.

    Happy travels David.

    1. I pinned you to a very popular guest photography I’m included on. Hope you get some thefts from it 😉
      Enjoyed this post…

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