Ditching Digimarc, digital watermark for your photos?

Ditching Digimarc was an easy decision after I spent just a couple of hours to see if Digimarc was actually working for me. I'm sure Digimarc is a great tool when used in the right way for the right purposes. Their individual user pricing features are essentially useless though. Isn't it the worst when you think you found something to scratch an itch or solve a problem and the promise turns out to be hollow? There are better ways to protect and claim copyright on your images. I wrote about a personal experience with photo sharing, digital ownership and watermarking one year a go. After having someone steal that photo, I went in search of a software to claim digital ownership of my photos without having to put my name or logo over the top of every photo I publish. Digimarc has been around for a while and is used by a lot of photographers. I couldn't find anyone giving a review of Digimarc for personal use so I had to try it for myself to know if it would work. Watch the video to see how that turned out.

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:

  1. Tell me where my photos are being used online.
  2. 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 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.

  • 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.
  • is an excellent option that returned great results as far as finding my images being used. I paid for this through 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.
  • and 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:

  1. My primary revenues do not come from selling or licensing images and those are not part of my long term business model. 
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Ditching Digimarc, digital watermark for your photos?


  1. Thank you so much Kevin…I was just about to join Dogimarc!! OMG..shocking..I’m an artist mainly doing paintings (but I got some photos too –at the moment only got my Instagram @gaia.starace as I’m doing my new website) and I have been looking for the same thing…I’m using WordPress and I found this article …although the watermark isn’t exciting…(I don’t want to put a huge watermark sign across my photos!)…it seems that perhaps Pixies searches for thieves?! I’m not sure really…I shall try Ascribe too and keep searching then!
    Thanks 🙂 Gaia

    1. Author

      That’s a pretty good article you linked to. I’ve use a couple of those options. Watermarking has always been my least favorite but it’s the most widely used and still somewhat effective. I’ve heard Pixsy services are pretty good but I don’t have first hand knowledge of that one. I also used for a while and found them to be very good at finding images, but quite often the people using my photos are outside of their jurisdiction where they can pursue damages. In the end it’s always up to the photographer or artist to protect and pursue takedown or compensation for their own work.

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