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Why do photographers put a watermark on their photos?

What is a watermark?
A watermark is text or a graphic that is usually placed on a photo to identify who owns the copyright. It can include a logo, business name, person’s name, website, email address, or phone number. A watermark does not need to be on a photo for the photo to be protected by copyright law.

Why do photographers put a watermark on their photos?
A watermark is a fast and simple way to identify who owns the photo. If the contact details of the photographer are not shown on the watermark, a quick internet search will usually find the business/person named on the watermark. If you cannot contact the copyright owner and get permission, then you cannot use the photo.

If I remove the watermark, can I use the photo?
No. By altering the photo you are breaching copyright and the owner can take legal action against you for altering/damaging the photo. Quite often they will only ask you to remove the photo, but they are within their rights to obtain financial compensation for the use of the photo.

When I buy photos from a professional photographer, will they have a watermark on them?
Most of the time, no, they won’t have a watermark. Occasionally, there may be an agreement whereby the photographer places a watermark on the photo especially if they think they might benefit financially from having it visible, but it is rare to do so.

Can I get my photos for free if I let the photographer leave their watermark on the photos for ‘exposure’?
How much or how little a photographer charges for photos is entirely up to them and how they run their business, however ‘exposure’ rarely ever benefits the photographer, and is usually what potential clients offer when they don’t want to pay what the photographer is asking. Any time you ask for ‘free photos’ you are essentially letting the photographer know that you don’t think their photos are worth anything, but you’re happy for them to spend time and skills producing them.

When I look at my photos in an online gallery, why do photographers put big, ugly watermarks on them?
So you don’t steal them before you’ve paid for them!

Some other information about watermarks:
♦ Photos do not have to be watermarked for copyright to take affect.
♦ Just because a photo has a watermark applied to it does not mean you can use it for your own purpose (private or commercial use). The watermark is placed on a photo so that anyone wanting to use the photo can easily see who owns it, and can contact the owner to gain permission to use the photo. Sometimes you will be given permission for free, sometimes there might be restrictions about the use of the photo and include a licensing fee, and sometimes they will say no. It is up to the copyright owner’s discretion.
♦ Crediting the copyright owner is not enough, and does not give you permission to use the photo. Permission must be granted by the copyright owner (usually in written form) for the photo to be legally used. You can either contact the owner directly to gain permission, or in the case of stock photography websites, you can purchase a license online to use the photo.