Online Piracy

3 Reasons to Use a Digital Watermark

Watermarks and the DMCA

Watermarks and the DMCA

Watermarking has been the artists’ bane since the early days of the computer revolution. We all want to protect our images from unauthorized use, but at the same time, we don’t want to do anything to detract from the visual appearance, since that is the whole point of posting the work in the first place.  So, we have a couple of choices; 1) we can splash a giant watermark on top of our work, which will certainly keep anyone from using it, but is just too intrusive for many artists to bear or 2) we can add a small watermark in the corner, like in the image above, which identifies the work but doesn’t do much to protect it. Cropping out the watermark is easy and hardly a deterrence should anyone wish to use the image for their personal gain.

But there are still advantages to adding the watermark, courtesy of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)Here are three of them:

#1: The DMCA says that if someone crops out your watermark, that action may trigger a series of violations in addition to copyright infringement.  The violations include AntiCircumvention, Anti-Trafficking, and Alteration of Copyright Management Information for which the statutory damages can be up to $25,000 per violation. Sounds pretty good, right?

#2: Temporary and permanent injunctions may be granted to prevent or restrain violators from using your image.  That is usually the immediate concern.  So if the violator removes the watermark, getting an injunction becomes a bit easier.

#3:  The violator may also be subject to criminal penalties. Willful violators of the anti-circumvention rules may be fined up to $500,000 and imprisoned for up to five years for a first offense. Subsequent offenses may be punished by fines up to $1,000,000 and imprisonment for up to ten years. This may sound a little harsh, but it will get the attention of the violator.  Going forward with this action is your choice.

So, now you have three good reasons to use a watermark. While it may not be something you want to adorn an image of your work, there is a clear benefit to doing so. And, since the watermark does not need to be intrusive, you should make watermarking a standard practice before posting any of your work to the web.

If you have any questions on watermarking, or have comments that may be helpful to our readers, please post them  below. And if enjoyed this article, I would appreciate if you share it with your friends.  Thanks for reading!



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About the author

Steve Schlackman

As a photographer and Patent Attorney with a background in marketing, Steve has a unique perspective on art and law. Should you have any questions on Intellectual Property contact him at [email protected] His photography can be seen online at or on display at the Emmanuel Fremin Gallery in New York City.

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  • Hi Steve, Stumbled across your blog from a link someone posted on FB. Great articles! There is so much misinformation circulating about copyright infringement, it is nice to hear from an attorney some actual facts on the subject.

    I have been selling on Etsy for a little over 5 years. I sell wall decals. Some are designs I have paid royalties to reproduce and others are my own designs. I have on several occasions experienced finding my designs copied and being sold by both small “crafters” as well as widely distributed on Ebay and Amazon by Chinese companies.

    Amazon is soon launching its new “Amazon Handmade” market place. You have to apply to sell there and I have been accepted. The launch date is not yet announced (even to sellers) but they are currently allowing sellers to set up their shops and listings.

    One of Amazon’s rules for selling on Amazon is that you may NOT use watermarks or copyright notices on your images. (or logos). I have spoken with a representative from Amazon over the phone and I was told they are firm on this rule and that a watermark or copyright notice did not prevent someone from infringing my work anyway. This is true, but after reading some of you articles, I am wondering if this rule would somehow be illegal as it would limit any possible damages an artist could receive if their IP is copied….I am referring to you mentioning that if an image has a copyright notice and someone removes it then it would show willful intent.

    It has been my personal experience that the only designs I have found to date being copied, are the ones I created early on in my business and naively posted online without a copyright notice.

    I would love to hear you weight in on this subject.

    Thanks in advance,


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