Before I start I want to state that the opinions stated below are my personal view, and this is an open invitation to discuss the points I raise herein.
I wholly appreciate why artists and photographers use watermarks and remonstrate about copyright ad nauseum, but at the same time I think that all this worry about copyright and watermarking images smacks of two things: hubris and ego. Hubris because you assume people will want to rip off your work, and ego in the assumption that your work is original and unique compared to the opus of photography that already exists. This is not meant as a personal attack on anyone in particular, and I can already hear the arguments for the converse point of view being shouted loud and clear.
Therefore let me start with watermarks. I personally find that a watermark degrades and distracts from my work as often my art carries right through from border to border with little to no negative space that a watermark would be discrete enough to fill without drawing the viewers attention away from the message I want to convey. I find them to be the artistic equivalent of blunt force trauma on the viewer, saying that you are too afraid of your work being stolen to trust the viewer to enjoy your work unmolested. They also strike me as the ultimate in artistic gratification, as they assault the viewer with an advert of the photographer, therefore taking away from the pleasure of enjoying an image in isolation of itself. When I first started doing photography, and creativity in general, I made a conscious choice to not put a watermark or any other identifying mark on my work, which I carried through to the present day.
I take the same view about copyright. I have given away nearly 7000 images as free stock on Deviant Art in the last six years, all with the stipulation of share and share alike. I do allow commercial use of my work, and if someone wants to pay me for use of my work commercially then I will not say no to a payment, but if someone doesn’t then I am not going to enforce my copyright. Why? Three reasons: I want to stimulate creativity, it is not worth my time or energy chasing every single infraction of work, and most importantly I enjoy the artistic results that people create using my work. On the flip side of this I have a website chock full of my and the team’s work shared with the whole world to appreciate and enjoy. If someone wants to use my work then I have very little power to stop them, so I choose not to worry.
The other practical side of my photography is that I have a fairly unique style that you can generally tell if an image is mine or not. I do have measures in place which will make it hard for people to abuse my good faith, all of them subtle and discrete enough not to distract from the pleasure of viewing my work, plus I am also very careful about where I display my non-stock work (website and Face Book mainly).
On the other hand I am incredibly fortunate not to have to worry professionally about my work. I have a job which pays me well enough to do the things I enjoy in life, and as such photography is first and foremost my passion. If it was my livelihood I would take more care about my professional work, but at the same time I doubt my overall outlook will change. The professional photographers reading this will argue that I should care more about my work, and they have a point, but at the same time I do that much photography that I simply wish to share my work in as open a manner as possible. I love creating that wow moment, and I personally eschew the idea that watermarks and copyright theft should override the viewing pleasure of those I choose to share it with. When I do so it becomes more about me, my ego, that the art itself.
In the end I can either choose to get precious about my work, or I can continue to have an open palm philosophy about my work. I know which one I would prefer, and for that reason my work will remain watermark free for the foreseeable future. Thoughts and comments appreciated.