Image Copyright and Watermarking

Opposition Pre-Election Campaign Rally, Yerevan, Armenia © Onnik Krikorian 2007

Opposition Pre-Election Campaign Rally, Yerevan, Armenia © Onnik Krikorian 2007

The photograph above was taken at an opposition rally in Yerevan, Armenia, in October 2007. By January 2008, ahead of the February Presidential Election, the opposition had used it as one of the main images for their campaign website. Contacting them, they did at least agree to pay me $100 for use of the image online, but what they didn’t tell me was that they’d also use it as the main image for posters, banners, badges, and sticker labels.

Opposition Post-election Demonstration, Yerevan, Armenia © Onnik Krikorian 2008

Opposition Post-election Demonstration, Yerevan, Armenia © Onnik Krikorian 2008

That wasn’t as bad a situation as copyright infringement can be, but it did highlight the danger of posting images free from any kind of watermark at all. However, even posting watermarks in the top right or left and bottom right or left corners, depending on composition, doesn’t prevent abuse. For this year’s presidential election in Armenia, for example, CivilNet.am instead used one of my images of a candidate with the watermarks cropped off.

As usual, because I understand the limitations of the local media and especially when it comes to high quality photographs, I contacted them and demanded that a credit accompany the picture. Instead, but at least better than other publications such as A1 Plus who simply ignore such requests, they replaced it as if crediting anyone other than someone at their site is an embarrassment for them. I didn’t receive a response to my email nor an apology.

I hadn’t wanted to watermark my images on this site, preferring instead just to disable right-clicking in order to prevent saving them to disk, but copyright infringement in less than a week after launching the new design forces me to. With such violations rampant in pretty much every sphere of work in the South Caucasus it was probably inevitable and my experience to date is such that I certainly can’t allow it to happen again.

It’s plagued my work in the region since I started, but especially since much of the region’s media went online. Without professional photographers working for them, they say, they had no choice but to use other people’s images. In reality, however, that argument and justification was bogus. Despite licensing my images under Creative Commons as long as a credit is given, the situation continued.

Their argument that time was that they found the photographs using a Google Image Search, but did not know who the photographer was so could not credit them. That argument was bogus too. Google Image Search highlights the original source of the image. Telling that to publications such as A1 Plus in Armenia, however, results in nothing. Instead, they allege that the image’s ownership is unclear.

And that despite my possessing the full high-resolution RAW and JPEG files. Anyway, fast forward to last week when the Azerbaijani publication 1news.az published all the photographs from my Lachin gallery. They didn’t ask permission although quite unlike others they did at least credit the work to me. They didn’t, however, link to the original work or my articles listed.

So, I’m afraid, enough is enough, and I’ve had to watermark my images on this site. I’d recommend others do the same. Thankfully, as this site is driven by WordPress, it’s easy to do, and in particular I’m using two plugins: Signature Watermark which automatically adds one to images uploaded, and Bulk Watermark which allows you to add them to images already uploaded.

I didn’t want to do this, but I’ve no choice. And just as I had to delete years of images on Flickr, licensed for non-profit use if a credit is given, in order to start over again with watermarked images.

Moreover, despite a recent conversation with photographers in Georgia who say that there is some respect for copyright among publications, the problem still exists there with some taking my images too. One expat worker, ironically working on ‘media strengthening’ projects, not only refused to credit me for my photograph of the Georgian President below, but also acted as though the law didn’t apply to them.

But it does. Copyright infringement of photography is a violation of national and international copyright law. It is also frustrating the development of professional photojournalism in the region. And money is not an issue. There is Creative Commons, which I’ve used in the past, to allow certain use if a credit is given. However, most publications and bloggers don’t.

And not only is that illegal, but it’s also unethical and displays a total disregard for, and disrespect to, the work of photographers and photojournalists in the region. Indeed, even attempts to localize and introduce Creative Commons in the region failed and nobody has heard of it since. Quite simply, the situation with copyright infringement and image theft in the region is a disgrace.

Alas, the South Caucasus is not unique in this regard.

Mikheil Saakashvili, August War Press Conference, Tbilisi, Georgia © Onnik Krikorian 2008

Mikheil Saakashvili, August War Press Conference, Tbilisi, Georgia © Onnik Krikorian 2008

3 Comments Add Yours

  1. Tara Bradford

    You are not alone! Vigilance is key. I’ve had more than 200 images stolen or used without attribution, despite watermarks. After blogging for 7 1/2 years, I’ve recently deleted more than 2,200 posts and thousands of images, because I couldn’t stop companies from grabbing them via Bing or Google and hotlinking them to dodgy spam or attack sites. Too many people consider photography disposable and consider anything they see online as fair game.

    Reply
  2. Cindy S

    Truncated excerpt from the article echoes exactly what has happened to me and many others:

    “I hadn’t wanted to watermark my images on this site, preferring instead just to disable right-clicking in order to prevent saving them to disk, but copyright infringement in less than a week after launching the new design forces me to. … Their argument that time was that they found the photographs using a Google Image Search…”

    Like the author, I used all the available image protection tools like right-click disabling, etc, and they were insufficient. It left me no choice but to replace all my online images with small, prominently marked versions, precluding any more selling of reprints. (I was selling reprints on a Print On Demand type art site.) There are real damages to infringement, but each individual case is almost never enough to be worth doing anything about except send DMCA takedowns, a task that cuts into productivity. The last straw for me was when the search engines decided to be more like Pinterest. Now even the search engines are working against us. Being found is not so great anymore. All this infringement, and proposals to weaken copyright laws, will force anyone who makes visual art to severely change how they market themselves online.

    Reply
  3. Onnik James Krikorian

    Another thing to do is to add this to your robots.txt file to prevent images from being crawled by Google Image Search:

    User-agent: Googlebot-Image
    Disallow: /

    https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/35308?hl=en

    Reply

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