Are All Watermarks Copyrighted? [The Facts Explained]

When posting anything online, it’s natural to look for the best ways to protect your work from being stolen or used without your consent. You may think that adding a watermark to your images automatically copyrights the document, but is this really the case?

As a general rule, a watermark is not a form of copyright but rather a symbol that the art or work belongs to someone and is, in fact, copyrighted. This means that art or created documents with or without a watermark may be copyrighted.

If you are on the fence about using a watermark but want to make sure your work is protected, don’t fret. Below, you’ll find a quick breakdown of what a watermark does in terms of copyright and how to best protect your work once it’s published online.

Are Watermarked Images Copyrighted?

Chances are you’ve seen more than a few watermarks in your lifetime. Maybe more than you realize. A watermark is a popular way for designers and photographers to ensure that their work isn’t being copied and used without their knowledge or consent. But does a watermark really hold that much power?

For the most part, a watermark simply acts as an indicator that the image or document belongs to a specific individual. However, adding a watermark doesn’t actually copyright an image.

In the United States, copyright law prohibits any unauthorized use or copying of an original, created work. This includes but is not limited to:

  • Graphic art
  • Photographs
  • Maps
  • Architectural plans
  • Prints
  • Diagrams
  • Sculptures
  • Logos
  • Models

This means that copyright exists from the moment a photo is taken or a design is created and has nothing to do with the addition of a watermark.

Do Watermarks Actually Provide Copyright Protection?

The prevention of image theft is among the main reasons for using a watermark—especially for those under the impression that watermarks provide copyright protection.

While this is somewhat helpful, watermarks are now easier to get around thanks to technological advancements. Plus, the image is protected without it. Instead, what a watermark does is act as a reminder that the image is copyrighted and not to be used without permission.

Remember, an image without a watermark is just as protected by copyright as one with a watermark. And anyone taking the image either isn’t aware of copyright law or is and may go through the pains of removing the watermark and using the photo anyway.

Really, the only way to ensure that your photos won’t be copied or stolen is to never post them online in the first place.

Should You Use a Copyright Notice?

Just like a watermark, posting a copyright notice isn’t a requirement for your image or design to be copyrighted. However, it may add another layer of protection.

Though common knowledge to some, not everyone is aware of copyright laws. Placing a copyright notice on your website or work lets people know that it is copyrighted and you intend to enforce it. This may help deter people from infringing on your copyright and educate those who don’t know.

A copyright notice can increase the power of your watermark. If a notice is posted and someone steals the image and removes the watermark, they may be liable for greater damages.

What to Include In a Copyright Notice

When posting a copyright notice, there is no need to register your work with the Copyright Office. This is something that everyone can do, but there are some elements you’ll want to make sure to include.

First, you’ll want to include the copyright symbol (the encircled letter C) or the word “Copyright” in the notice. You’ll also need to include the year of publication and the name of the owner of the work.

For example, your copyright notice could look like this: Copyright 2022 John Doe or © 2022 John Doe.

Other Ways to Protect Images Online

On top of using a watermark and copyright notice, you can even add a notice to the metadata of the photos in programs like Lightroom.

You may also want to consider using low-resolution photos on your website or using a plugin to disable the right-click feature. If you feel your images or designs are being used without your knowledge, try using a service like Pixsy or Copytrack to search for unauthorized use of your images.

Although none of these options are foolproof, they give your images additional layers of protection on top of their inherent copyright protection.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, this article gave you a better understanding of copyright protection and watermarks. Protecting work online isn’t always easy. Knowing the various layers of safeguarding your work can keep your images from being used without your consent and save you money in the long run.