Why I Watermark My Photographs

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(NOTICE: I didn’t say YOU should watermark YOUR images – I am merely explaining why I watermark MY images.)

There are three big reasons I watermark my images:

The first is simple. In the event of infringement (i.e., someone commercially uses my photo without compensating me,) I can use the watermark to prove that the infringement was knowingly done.

The watermark helps trigger this portion of the statute which means I get more money in court when I sue for infringement.

Pursuant to 17 U.S. Code § 504, (d)Additional Damages in Certain Cases.—
In any case in which the court finds that a defendant proprietor of an establishment who claims as a defense that its activities were exempt under section 110(5) did not have reasonable grounds to believe that its use of a copyrighted work was exempt under such section, the plaintiff shall be entitled to, in addition to any award of damages under this section, an additional award of two times the amount of the license fee that the proprietor of the establishment concerned should have paid the plaintiff for such use during the preceding period of up to 3 years.

See – (Pub. L. 94–553, title I, § 101, Oct. 19, 1976, 90 Stat. 2585; Pub. L. 100–568, § 10(b), Oct. 31, 1988, 102 Stat. 2860; Pub. L. 105–80, § 12(a)(13), Nov. 13, 1997, 111 Stat. 1535; Pub. L. 105–298, title II, § 204, Oct. 27, 1998, 112 Stat. 2833; Pub. L. 106–160, § 2, Dec. 9, 1999, 113 Stat. 1774; Pub. L. 108–482, title II, § 203, Dec. 23, 2004, 118 Stat. 3916; Pub. L. 111–295, § 6(f)(2), Dec. 9, 2010, 124 Stat. 3181.)

Snowy Egret Photo by Scott Bourne

Secondly – The watermark makes it impossible for an infringer to claim the infringement was innocent. And while you may not sell or license your photography, and therefore might not care, I do sell and license my photography and infringement impacts my bottom line in a very negative way. So I watermark.

The second big reason that I watermark, is that the mark helps identify my work for parties that are interested in legitimate licensing or use of my images for commercial, educational or artistic purposes. Yes, the EXIF data in the image does identify me as the maker and the Copyright holder, but that data is sometimes accidentally stripped out or the interested party might not know how to access it. Seeing a watermark makes it very easy to find the maker and is just good marketing, in my opinion. Otherwise, I run the risk of having an orphaned work.

Thirdly – the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (17 U.S. Code § 512) gives photographers the right to demand that infringed works be removed from the Internet. The use of a watermark stops infringers from using a technical defense called SAFE HARBOR. It’s too much data to get into here, but suffice it to say that having a watermark makes it more likely the DMCA will protect me.

In addition to the three reasons I gave above, I look at the use of a watermark as a personal touch – similar to a signature on a painting. While it’s purely a personal choice, I like it.

And while I spoke directly about the marketing value of someone being able to find me if they want to use my work, there are other, more subtle, marketing advantages. For one thing, it helps with branding. People get used to seeing a consistently applied watermark and it makes my images more easily recognized and lastly, it helps with notoriety.


While I generally watermark every image I post (unless it’s prohibited or I am in a hurry or lazy) I do believe in doing so tastefully. In my opinion, the watermark should be screened back and out of the way so as not to distract from the image. It also doesn’t need to be a mile wide. Roughly 3-5% of the image is my suggestion for max size. I usually put my watermark in the corner. Yes – it can be more easily edited out this way. But it is there to help with the things I stated early in this post. I can’t stop someone from outright stealing my photo. If they want to erase the watermark, they can. But if I catch them, it will cost them!


Some people don’t need to worry about this. If you don’t care about commercializing your photography, and if you aren’t interested in being “discovered,” it’s probably more trouble than it is worth. But if you want money or recognition for your hard work, you may want to consider my approach.

(Disclaimer – I am not a licensed attorney so consult an attorney rather than taking this information as advice.)

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