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Bring back the watermark, save your content

Friends, I think it’s time we had a serious talk. This might be a bit of a controversial topic, but I think we’re at the point where revisiting something might save us a bit of a headache in the long run.

I think it’s time we start being obnoxious about watermarking.

I know, I know; watermarking is probably the easiest way to scream “terrible experience” to a prospective viewer of your stuff. Watermarks stick out like a sore thumb, and by being distracting you could argue that they lower the quality of the piece just by being there.

However, I think the negatives of their inclusions are outweighed by the fact that content theft on the Internet is getting downright stupid. You’ve seen it before — you’ve had to — some family member or friend shares a post from a local radio station that’s a YouTube mirror of someone’s Vine. It might not even be a Vine – it might even be something they ripped from another channel and uploaded it like it was original.

You look at the Likes/Shares/Views/Retweets/Reblogs, and that post has hundreds, if not thousands. The original author will never get the benefit of them. The re-poster doesn’t give a shit about where it came from or crediting it properly. The viewers don’t care about where it came from; they get their chuckle, they move on.

They’ll throw out a caption saying that they “don’t know who made this, but it’s .” That’s a shitty deal. ‘s might be a nice gesture, but it sure as hell doesn’t put money in your pocket, or followers in your tally.

So I think it’s time we did something about it.

There’s a good argument for keeping watermarks off your product; you are almost guaranteed to get complaints about it, and pissing off your audience is never a good thing.

However, it’s gone beyond innocent misunderstandings to full-blown cottage industrys. Your content is making people rich. Your content is getting people book deals. Your content is building other peoples’ success.

They are hiding behind “parody” accounts and “curator” titles, and at worst, will make people think they’re doing you a favor — saying “it’s good exposure” doesn’t fly when you aren’t giving out credit in the first place.

This video does a pretty good job of summarizing it. NSFW language, at times.


When you put in hard work and expertise into something, do you not think you deserve to be rewarded for it? With ad rates in the tank (and adblockers costing publishers an estimated $22 billion in 2015 based off of a study by Pagefair and Adobe in August), there has been a renewed look at crowdfunding, patronage and sponsorship to help make your creative product sustainable. If your content isn’t growing your community as much as it could — and worse, growing someone else’s more — why wouldn’t you try to take that back?

I’m not saying you should be plastering your whole video with marquee, but the next time you’re about to publish something, take a look at it and think: how hard would it be for someone to rip me off? How hard would it be for someone to download the original, crop out my corner watermark and re-post it? How much does it mean to me to be recognized and rewarded for the hard work and expertise I put into it? Is there a way that I can make sure that it’s easy to attribute it to me?

I know this kind of suggestion will likely make photographers, vloggers and streamers nervous; especially for the first group, theft is a huge problem, but ruining customer experience might lead to less licensing or sales. It’s also harder to get people to recognize you as a good talent if they cannot appreciate the full scope of it with a watermark marring it.

Considering the manpower and effort it takes to hunt down theft and deal with it through terrible, apathetic systems (I’m looking at you, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram), it might we worth having the mental argument with yourself to see which route you’d like to take.

Over the past year I have firmly come to believe that the average consumer of content (the one who has no personal investment in your product, because he/she doesn’t know who you are) does not care how the sausage gets made. They do not care where or how they get their content, so long as they get to enjoy it. This sadly presents us with an insurmountable problem: we cannot go into every person’s house who watched your lifted video and educate them on why they should give a shit.

All we can really do is present a way for those who want to support and learn more about the person who made the original piece; if they care enough, they’ll follow, share and support. However, counting on someone else — the thief — to do that when they have no inclination to is equally as much a fool’s errand.

So go ahead. Put that Twitter handle watermark where it’s impossible to crop out. Throw a “don’t steal my photography” in 50% opacity. Reclaim a little bit of what people are taking from you, because I can assure you, otherwise they will not give a fuck.


Matt Demers writes about eSports and the Internet from his place in Toronto, Ontario. Please don’t copy-paste this article. Follow me on Twitch and Twitter, and subscribe to my newsletter.