I did already say it’s useless so that’s the TLDR take away. There were two things I was expecting Digimarc to do for me, and it didn’t do either. I was expecting it to:
- Tell me where my photos are being used online.
- Persist in the image on social networks regardless of being resized and compressed.
In summary: the digital watermark doesn't persist on images very well, and not at all if the image has been shared or right click saved more than once. At the basic consumer level, Digimarc is just not a viable tool. I would have had to pay in the neighborhood of $5,000 US to get their next level of protection with a "more durable digital watermark" and that price tag just doesn't make sense based on how I use and sell my images.
So for the next year I’m going to be ditching Digimarc to try Ascribe.io Ascribe is a young company and technology with good promise to solve the digital ownership problem. Right now their service is free so I’m definitely giving it a try. Even if you do use a software to do some sort of tracking of your photos, the photo metadata is still the most reliable way to do it for now so don’t forget to use those tried and true tools until these digital watermarking tools mature for a while longer.
Update at end of 2020
I have tried a number of different softwares, tools and platforms since I made this video in 2016. The landscape has also changed dramatically regarding who has access to images and ways they might use them. Basically if you share anything in digital form, just expect that people will think it's theirs to do with as they wish. In a way, that's just the price of doing business on the interwebs. From a creator's point of view though, that's pretty messed up. So here's what I know and recommend right now.
- Ascribe.io is out of business. Tracking ownership through blockchain is a very viable technology for this problem but it's still not a profitable angle to market to art and digital creators unfortunately. Soon hopefully.
- ImageRights.com is an excellent option that returned great results as far as finding my images being used. I paid for this through ImageBrief.com that I used for a couple of years before they went out of business. Their $500 a year fee doesn't make sense as a standalone service - mostly because I do travel photography and my images get used commercially by entities outside of US and UK jurisdiction so Image Rights can't collect money for use of my images most of the time anyway.
- Pixsy.com and Imatag.com are two services that have been recommended to me but I haven't spent the time to dig in and review their usefulness for image protection and collecting fees for image use.
- Google image search licensing is the one I'm using for everything I share on this website. It doesn't help with pirated images or people who right click, save, and then reuse an image for their own commercial purposes. It does tell people that there is a copyright license on the image and puts a link in google image search to my own licensing terms.
I do post photos to Unsplash on occasion when I have the time. Photos shared on Unsplash are free to use for any commercial or non-commercial purpose with no compensation at all. Services like Unsplash are very divisive in photography and art circles. I don't recommend this to most creatives. I do it for the following reasons:
- My primary revenues do not come from selling or licensing images and those are not part of my long term business model.
- I make money through Employee Art Program so showcasing my photos and drawing people into the joy of photography is far more important than burning precious hours chasing image thieves who I have little chance of collecting damages from anyhow.
- Making large art prints of these images is another revenue stream - 4 feet to 10 feet on the long side. You're only going to be able to make a quality large print by 1) Owning the original image and 2) Knowing how to resize, sharpen, clean and color correct it by print substrate.
- Because licensing images isn't a core part of my business model, what value do my images have?
- To inspire people to travel and/or to practice their photography for personal enjoyment.
- For some projects I need quality images that I don't have time to stage and photograph myself. I pay for images from shutterstock and other paid resources and sometimes the best image for my project is found on Unsplash. If I'm going to use other people's photos for my projects and they have been kind enough to provide it for free then I will also contribute in kind giving some of my photos to use for free. That exchange is where the value lies for me; in getting and giving good will.
I have no doubt the technology in digital watermarking is worthwhile at the right scale; meaning if you're an enterprise who will lose hundreds of thousands of dollars if you don't protect some IP. I've just made a decision to enjoy the purposes I use the photos for and not to lose any sleep over someone in Indonesia or Morocco or elsewhere ripping off an image to use on their website or print brochures.