The ‘Instagram Act’ And The Importance Of Watermarking Your Images

The UK Government’s Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act became law at the end of April 2013. It has come under attack over its treatment of so-called "orphan works". Those are works where no original creator can be traced. It allows anyone to use any image where a ‘diligent search’ doesn’t turn up the owner of that image. The EU are considering bring in a similar law.

Now you may think this doesn’t apply to your images because your images are on your web site or facebook page etc, so your ownership of them is obvious. Or because you are not in the UK.

But you need to think again!
Your images could be out there as orphan images thanks to the internet and the growth of mobile phones and tablets. It’s now very easy to share photos you find online. In fact on a mobile phone with certain apps, its so easy you can do it without realizing it.

An Example

Let’s say you have a photo of one of your paintings on your web site. Somebody admires it and posts it to their social network on facebook, then somebody else shares it with their friends on facebook, from there somebody tweets it on twitter and somebody else takes it from twitter and puts it up on their blog in a post about wonderful cat paintings!

Now, none of these people are being malicious, they just want to share something they admire. The first person who posted your image to facebook may well have credited you by adding a link to your web site when they posted the photo, but that seldom happens further down the chain. As people take it and pass it on all evidence of where it came from is lost. So it can be impossible to follow that trail in reverse to find the owner of the photo.

Then a company sees your photo on that final web site and wants to use it in their advertising campaign, they contact the owner of the site who has no idea where the photo came from, it was just something they found on twitter. Tracing it back further than that could well be impossible, with the sheer level of data on sites like twitter and facebook. So now they can simply help themselves to your image and use it in their campaign without your permission and without any payment to you!

If you want to see an example of how a family photo went from facebook to a large add in a shop window without their knowledge, look at this article on skinny artist.

How To Embrace Sharing

Flirting With danger - Tamsin Lord

This kind of sharing can in fact be a great tool for artists. Really! Seriously folks, before the days of the internet you had to get a gallery to represent you. Now you can get your work seen by people all over the world because of the internet. This new fashion for sharing photos is an extension of that and will expose your work to so many more people. But it’s only useful if people know YOU are the artist, and where to FIND YOU.

So what can you do?

Watermark Your Images!

Add your name and contact details to all your images. If you have a web site use your web site address, it’s extra advertising after all! You could use your email address or a facebook page, but whatever you use it needs to be something that isn’t going to change anytime soon. Add the text over your image using any photo editing software. There are lots of them around, some free, some paid, and some online, like So if people love your work and choose to share your images across the internet, they’ll have your name and a way to find you on the photo. Think of it like an electronic business card. It can bring new readers to your web site.

Here’s how it might look…

Toffee and Thistle - painting by Denise LaurentFavourite-Chair by Celia Pike

Add Metadata

Metadata is the hidden stuff that comes with every photo. It holds information like the date taken, the camera used and so on. You can also add your copyright, author, contact and web site details to all your photos before you upload them online. Some photo editing software will let you do this, but you’ll need to do some research to find out which ones. Some operating systems will let you do it too, under the photo properties. However, some social networking sites strip the metadata out of photos when they are uploaded.

Dealing With The Dark Side

the-stealing-paw by D LaurentWatermarking (and to a certain extent metadata) can help you when people are just sharing your images because they like what you do. But what if people are deliberately trying to steal your images to use them for their own commercial gain? This does happen and has happened to several of our members. Unfortunately there’s no easy solution to this. Watermarks can be either cropped out or retouched and metadata can be stripped out.

Resizing Your Images

One way to help protect yourself from this kind of theft is to use small images online. A 400/500 pixel jpeg is fine for online use but it’s hard to get good quality prints from an image that size.

These days mobile phones have excellent cameras that take good quality images at large sizes. If you take a photo of your painting on your phone and then upload it to your web site you could be uploading a 3000 pixel image. Your web site may display it as a small image but if somebody downloads it they’ll get the full size image! Good enough to make mugs, prints, t-shirts etc. So ALWAYS resize important images before you put them online. Sadly nothing will stop those people who are determined to take your work and use it for themselves.

Preparing Images For Online Use

  1. First make a copy of your image,
  2. then resize it to the size you need for your web site.
  3. Add your watermark text in your photo editor
  4. Add any metadata if you’re using it
  5. Save the image as a jpeg
  6. Upload it to your site.


Don’t give thieves high resolution images!

For more information

You can sign the petition here to stop the theft of copyrighted works under the act…

You can find out more about the act here…

Five ways to protect yourself…

Another excellent article about image theft on the skinny artist web site gives some great examples and talks the methods people use to try and stop thieves.

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