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Image Protection Strategy

Matt from Image Witness here.

Your images are your most critical resource. Its your lifeblood. You have poured your heart, sweat and time into the creation of your content.

I’m writing to touch base and provide some information on a common problem impacting photographers, agencies and creatives – Understanding all of the options available to you to create your image protection and management strategy.

Having an effective protection and management strategy in place means that you have done all you can to secure your content. You will then have an ongoing process to identify issues with options at your fingertips to deal with concerns as they arise.

In coming weeks we’ll provide some in depth information on each of the following topics:

Proactive steps:

Management options:

Lets tackle the first item on the list (which is near to our hearts):

Track your images online

There is no perfect protection method. When you put your content online by its nature its visible and accessible to the world.

With the above in mind, unless you know you have a problem you cannot do anything about it.

Image tracking is the ongoing process that informs you of the usage of your images online, Some options available to perform this are:

  • Reviewing sales that you have made then cross checking client websites to ensure that licenses and contracts have been adhered to. ie. Correct time and usage conditions for example
  • An image search solution (we have one that is our favourite) which will show you where your images are being used online

The things that matter in your image tracking solution are: Coverage of your image library (can you monitor your entire collection?), Quality of results and the management process to deal with your results (A library of tens of thousands of images can result in a hundred thousand results)

If you want information on something else, let me know. Ill fit it into an upcoming email / blog post.

Copyright Registration – United States Copyright Office and why you need it


Have You Registered Copyright On Your Images? Here’s Why You Should 

The standard line about image copyright is “once you create the image, you have the copyright.” However, this commonly-believed rule is not strictly true. Yes, you do have copyright when you create an image. But do you have an enforcable copyright? That’s what makes all the difference.

Let’s say that you discover that one of your images is being used online, for commercial purposes, without your permission. Your next logical step would be to issue a DMCA takedown notice, or to inform the company that they are in breach of copyright. However, it is possible that if your copyright is not registered, your claim will not fall out in your favor. The law may ask: “what have you done to manage and protect your copyright?” If the answer is nothing, it’s not looking very good for you.

After you make the art, you need to register the copyright.

The important of USCO registration

Every photographer and artist needs to learn how to register copyright with the USCO, or the United States Copyright Office. Copyright registration is an important part of establishing formal ownership of copyright, and is a good tool to have in your toolbox in the case that your copyright is breached. In fact, it’s a good tool to have as a professional artist or photographer in general; it’s a step that shows you are serious about your career and work.

There are many ways to register image copyright online, and you can even work directly with Image Witness to get this important job done quickly and easily.

Registering copyright and international issues

If you are a US citizen, you should register your copyright with the USCO. In most cases, it will be your primary mode of protection against breach of copyright.

Believe it or not, it’s also good idea to register your copyright with the USCO even if you neither live nor work in the United States. This all has to do with the idea of “managing your copyright;” the US is a huge market, and taking the time to register your copyright with the United States Copyright Office is definite proof that you care about managing and protecting the copyright of your work.

The USCO is a formal government body and hence its the worldwide standard for copyright registration. There are other groups such as the UK Copyright Service, which provides copyright registration options for images and photographs, as well as other creative works. No, you don’t have to live or work in the UK to register with the UKCS.

What about copyright registration in other countries? Well, it depends on the country. Australia, for example, has no system of copyright registration, stating ”Copyright protection does not depend on publication, a copyright notice, or any other procedure. Copyright protection is free and automatic from the moment your work is on paper, or disk, or otherwise put into “material form”.”

This means that if you have made a formal registration at an international group (Preferably the USCO), you’re pretty well set towards proving copyright in case of a breach.

A note on the Berne Convention

If you start looking seriously into copyright law, you’re going to hear about the Berne Convention. In short: the Berne Convention, accepted in 1886, stated that countries in the Berne Union must acknowledge copyrights from other countries; that is, someone in the UK can’t steal an American photo just because the copyright is in the US and not the UK; your US copyright applies to the UK as well.

That gives you the opportunity to select only one country through which to register your copyright; although, some organisations recommend registering in multiple countries. What’s important, of course, is that you register — without that all-important registration, you might not be able to prove copyright of your images when you need it most.

Let me know if you would like any further details or where we can help further. We will tackle another topic in the image protection space soon.

Talk soon,

Matt Johnson
Image Witness

References and image credits (if applicable):


Photo by Pat Loika

Chris messing with a Cintiq.




DMCA Takedown – What it is and how it works

Today we look at DMCA takedowns. This story often begins with an email from a friend asking “hey, isn’t this your photo?” Maybe you’re scrolling Facebook and you see a sponsored post that uses an image you instantly recognize. Maybe, like many other photographers before you, you find your photos appearing on the front page of major news sites — only without your permission, without your knowledge, and without any offer of payment.

If — or when – that happens, you need to make a decision as to whether this could be a commercial infringement that its possible to recover revenue from or a situation where you might not be able to recover anything but still need to assert your rights as the owner of your image. For the latter you need to know how to issue a DMCA takedown.

What is a DMCA takedown, and how can you use it?

The DMCA takedown process developed as part of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998. To quote DMCA.com directly:

A DMCA takedown is when content is removed from a website at the request of the owner of the content or the owner of the copyright of the content.

DMCA takedowns provide copyright protection to photographers. Whether you are a photographer yourself, or work for an agency representing a photographer, you have the right to send DMCA takedown notices to any website you believe is infringing upon your copyright.

Sending a DMCA takedown notice is fairly simple.You need to send or email a letter to the owners of the hosting ISP, identifying the copyrighted content and asking the ISP to remove the content from the website. Your letter must include specific elements and language to be valid — for example, the statement that you are acting “in good faith.” Following the DMCA takedown guidelines is relatively easy, and all photographers and agencies should learn exactly what they need to do to issue a DMCA takedown notice.

Pros of issuing DMCA takedown notices

  • You send a message to website owners reminding them that they cannot use copyrighted photographs without permission.
  • You stand up for both your rights and the rights of other photographers.
  • You help educate content creators who often assume that photos they find on the internet are “free.”
  • Often, instead of taking the image down, the ISP owner will offer to either give you credit for the image or purchase the rights to use the image. That’s what happened to photographer Joshua Dunlop, who successfully received payment from the Daily Mail after the news site used his photography without permission. This type of scenario is a win-win for everyone.

Cons of issuing DMCA takedown notices

  • You may accidentally issue a takedown notice on a website that is following Fair Use guidelines. If the website is following Fair Use, you cannot force them to remove the image.
  • You need to make sure you actually own the copyright before you issue the notice.
  • You need to make sure it is actually your content on the website. Think of all the stock photos of the Eiffel Tower, for example. Are you sure it is your image being used, and not a different photo that just looks like one of yours?
  • Issuing a DMCA takedown notice means you have to be prepared to file a lawsuit if the ISP does not comply. That’s what happened to photographer Christopher Boffoli, who sued Twitter after the site did not respond to his DMCA takedown notices. Lawsuits are expensive and time-consuming, but are sometimes the only way to get the rights you deserve.

One more note about DMCA takedown notices

As you continue your career in photography, watch out for changes to DMCA takedown rules and updates to copyright law. As more and more people post photographs to sites like Twitter and Facebook, copyright law has to adapt to new, unexpected situations.

For example: currently, there is a tongue-in-cheek argument going on among copyright experts about who actually owns the famous “Oscar selfie” that was taken by actor Bradley Cooper on host Ellen DeGeneres’ phone. (Consensus at this point is that Cooper owns the copyright, although DeGeneres, the other celebrities in the photo, and even Samsung can make a case for partial ownership.) These types of discussions are amusing now but will quickly become more serious as the internet further blurs the line between individual creator, group copyright, and remix culture.

However, for the time being, the rules are simple. Keep an eye out for your photos. Know how to issue a DMCA takedown notice. Do your part to make sure the internet is fair to all photographers, and that everyone gets what they deserve.

Let me know if you would like any further details or where we can help further. We will tackle another topic in the image protection space in coming weeks!

Talk soon,

Matt Johnson
Image Witness

Securing Your Content Online

Time for the next instalment in our series on setting up your own image protection strategy. If you need a recap you can now find it at our overview for Protection StrategyWe will now look at the methods available to you to secure your content online. This is where we give you options that help you determine how far you want to go to restrict access to your content and the balance you strike between availability, usability and the work involved in setting these options up.

Partition your image library online

An effective way to protect content is to put your images into different sections of your website. Some sections can require signup and some will be available to anyone.Even if signup is free and available there is still a psychological advantage that comes into play here around what people will do with your content once they have signed in.

The other major factor that a free signup section provides is that it prevents search engines (Google, Yahoo, Bing etc) from crawling and indexing all of your content. You choose what you want in search engines and what is behind the signup “wall” (We discuss search engines further in a later topic)

There are several ways that you can look to partition your image collection to help reduce your exposure. 2 common options are:

  • Keep high res versions of your images behind a signup wall, Lower resolution images are available to anyone without a login
  • Have a section of your portfolio in a public area and a section behind a “logged in” area
How you implement this depends on your website, Here are some links for common platforms:For WordPress users try here
Fotomerchant has detailed options here
For photo shelter has options here
Smug mug here
Flickr here
Custom websites here

Slicing your images (Also called Tiling)

Slicing (or tiling) your pictures involves cutting your images into multiple pieces and putting them together on the webpage via a HTML table. This is a neat way of making sure people don’t get your whole image but can take time to achieve for your whole image collection as a system is required to create each sliced image. Further detailshere or here for a javascript version thats easy to implement.
Tiling example:

(Source: supersimple.org)

Disable Right Click (Not entirely recommended)

We don’t entirely support this option but it is something to consider. This is another protection strategy to help minimise the easy copying of your work (Its fairly simple to work around if you are determined but it is an additional layer of protection). To implement you put some javascript or html on your page (or enable the option in your photography platform) that prevents people on your website using their right mouse button functionality, which then hides the ability to choose the “Save Image” option. Before implementing you should consider if this will annoy your users as they may be used to this functionality. Details here

Shrink wrapping your images (also called Hidden Layers)

This involves putting a transparent image over your work so that when someone right clicks and chooses “download” they actually download the transparent image rather than your actual image underneath. This is more effective and a nicer experience for normal browsers than disabling right click. Details here

Using flash to serve your images

Protecting your images with flash prevents right clicking and simple copying. To do this you need to get your images into flash files which will require a workflow process to be setup. Details here
There are quite a few options provided above, Let us know what works for you and if you have another strategy to help in this space or anything we should cover please reply and comment. I’ll respond to all that I can.

Next update we are going to jump into an infringement management topic rather than a protection topic to help broaden your exposure. Watch this space!

To Watermark Or Not To Watermark…

Its time for the second in the series that will help give you an overall image protection strategy. Your images are your life and business, we want to make sure you have all options available to protect your content and manage issues as they arise.

Previously we covered image tracking, Today we are going to cover a topic that most are already aware of: Watermarking
We want to provide less detail around the technical process of watermarking itself and focus on what you have to think about when watermarking and the trade off’s you have to consider.

A watermark is an imprint on an image which can be a text such as your name or company name, a company logo or just a copyright symbol. Watermarks can be applied by your image editing package (eg Photoshop) or when you upload your content to an online library or portfolio website.

With the basics out of the way lets run through some of the less discussed and more interesting concepts to think about – What to watermark and how much does the act of watermarking degrade the quality / impact of your images.

What to watermark – Your approach does not need to be all or nothing with regard to watermarking. Depending on factors, like the impact of the watermark on your image content you can choose to only watermark images that are of a certain size or quality. You can also choose not to watermark the images on the overview of your portfolio so that you can achieve maximum impact for initial browsers but protect the rest of your portfolio through watermarks.

How to watermark – The size and coverage of watermarks depends on the types of infringement you are looking to protect against. If you are looking for all inclusive protection its important to have a watermark that covers a large surface area of your images. Often a logo plus radiating lines are used for this purpose to prevent simple cropping and photoshop editing. If you are looking to make people aware that an image is copyrighted but not go to lengths that may impact the image you can place your name/business/logo at the bottom of an image. When combined with an Image Tracking solution this can be effective in protecting your images and preserving image quality.

Impact of watermarking on your content – There is a fine line between saving your image from infringement and taking the beauty out of an image to protect it. Watermarks obviously impact your image. They take away from the message and visual appeal that an image is intended to deliver. The choice of watermark size, placement and strength should be weighed up by the image content on a case by case basis. Some images still present a powerful message with a full surface area watermark, in other images the watermark can be a huge distraction.

Watermark OK:

Adz78ftw_IMG_3091Watermark NOT OK:

Sunrise From Hot Air Balloon

To summarise watermarking is a handy option in your suite of image protection tools, however the impact to your work can often outweigh the benefit. If your taking a strong approach to protecting your content, watermarking is a valuable tool.

Let me know your thoughts on watermarking. I will respond personally.

Next topic in our image protection series.. Securing your content