Put copyright or watermark on pictures to protect photos from unauthorized copying and use

Monday, 12 September 2011
With the diffusion of digital images on various media , it has become very important for anyone who publishes a photo , even simple holiday memories , to set visible the property by the author of these images. The ease with which our images surf the web on platforms such as facebook and flickr does not protect us from the possibility that in fact these are downloaded and used for publications or sites that do not report to the author to have used his images nor indicate on their websites any authorship of the work .
It is important to remember that , in the absence of a clear indication of the property in our pictures , anyone is allowed to use them freely. Even if by law we do not lose the intellectual property rights of the work after any publishing, without a clear indication of copyright we can not ask for any reward or retaliate on those who copy and re-use our images without permission.
In fact, the safest strategy would be to be  able to prevent any downloading of images from the web if we do not wish to, unfortunately this is virtually impossible. The image sharing platforms are designed to work on all browsers and media, as a result they tend to be very simpl , just do a try, right click on an image and select ' copy ' , ' copy link ' , etc.  Also on this to follow ...

Some sites are built with flash and some scripts can prevent the use of the right mouse key or the command ' copy ' but , to be honest , it is very easy especially for those who work on the web or graphic experts to find a way to copy the pictures anyway . Suffice it to say that by pressing the "print " of our keyboard, the computer processes an image of the desktop as we see it at the time, so any image in the browser can be " photographed " and then pasted into Photoshop or other similar programs .

Of course we always talk about images that are at low resolution , but it's enough to comfortably use them on other blogs , web sites or print them at low resolution such as with those used by the newspapers . It happened to me that a well-known Italian newspaper with national circulation easily "captured" some photos from my old site that was built in flash, to my amazement  even before I could send them to them .

The practice of taking photos, especially if interesting for a newspapers , is unfortunately common in Italy. Speaking of personal experience, photos of a report that is still present in my portfolio have been safely copied and used by another national newspaper, whose graphic has also badly cloned away the small copyright notice on the top right. In this case, obviously we face a real crime against the copyright laws and can ask a just compensation for the stolen work . Needless to say, take legal action for one or two photos is more an idea for us to stay calm that not a thing anybody really does not even who is enrolled as a professional photographer, let alone an unsuspecting casual photographer .

Watermark used to prevent further thefts, it covers more extensively the photo but is invasive

So if it is true that there is not a 100% secure system, we must at least make sure to add a copyright notice each time our images appear on the web and better if on the photos themselves. We are not protected against theft of pictures but at least we minimize the risk .

Theoretically, a copyright notice placed at the bottom should be enough, but in the light of the above it is always better to add a watermark, (ie, a signature superimposed on the picture , which can be transparent or not ), directly on the photograph. This will also allow us to use it anywhere without having to continually add notes on copyright. If for some reason we publish a photo in full resolution (for example, to make the public see the quality of the "real" and not resized picture, as explained in this article) is crucial to use a semitransparent watermark covering the image, as in this following example :


Photographers generally use programs like Photoshop, with an automatic action, or Lightroom, but the procedure is not so easy and automatic and can discourage many users. To make life easier I suggest to use ad-hoc programs, which work automatically. The only drawback we encounter using these programs is the risk of loss of image quality, as these are processed, especially if we don’t set the right settings for compression (JPG). In addition, most of these programs are not free, so trivial nonsense for such a simple function.

Among the free programs, you can try the timeless PICTURESHARK >>>. This has the advantage of making us choose where to place the text, then we can also create real watermarks, semi-transparent and written INSIDE the photos too (the safest).

Personally, for the simple addition of the copyright notice or visible information, I am comfortable with a completely free software that Google has made available a couple of years: PICASA 3. I do not recommend to use this program to edit images, but consider it a good program to manage your photos on your PC, it also has several additional features very comfortable for exporting photos, as the addition of the copyright at the bottom of the photo. Let's see how:


Once we opened the folder of our photos in Picasa, we can select the ones on which we intend to put our signature. Then, with the command: FILE> EXPORT IN THE FOLDER we access the interface to export images.

1 ) Here we obviously have to select a different folder than the original , otherwise the program will save the photo in the default folder, usually the virtual folder username / Documents / Pictures etc.  If we choose the same source folder, Picasa will add a -1 to the picture with the same name ( to avoid) .

2 ) If our photos have been resized for the web with other software, maybe Photoshop (recommended ), we can leave the original size, otherwise we can apply the pixel size of the largest side (usually the width) and the photos will be scaled proportionally on both sides. This feature is very convenient and fast if you just do not want to go for more complex software. Please note that obviously vertical and horizontal photos will be treated differently. If we want picture with the same height, we should first take care for all horizontal, then for all verticals.


3) Jpeg pictures for the web, as well as being smaller (in pixels) are compressed, with a slight loss of data almost invisible to the naked eye but which lightens the file. It is advisable to leave automatic settings in order not to lose quality (if we have already resized/compressed by other software), but if our photos are too heavy we can choose a compression factor, or one of those pre-sets, or by moving cursor. I suggest a compression between 60 and 70, never less.

4) And finally the much desired watermark. Obviously we have to select the "watermark" and then add a signature such as in the example. Remember to put the year in which the copyright starts. This indeed has a very limited life. We can not choose either the font or the colour nor transparency of our signature, but the result is quite pleasing. Picasa will use an inscription in white letters if it is on a dark part of the picture, and a dark character if it’s on a light background. Now just click the "Export" and go to open the folder that we have chosen / written in (1) and enjoy our signed photos.

Let’s just hope that this discourages at least a bit the photo thieves!

© 2011 Marco Palladino

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