A while ago Fujifilm
Australia sent out an email message to tell people how to share their images responsibly. I was frightened to read it as I was worried that they were going to ask me to be responsible for something - and I have managed to avoid it for so many aspects of modern life. I pay taxes and have stopped counterfeiting government documents and rarely run people down on the road, so what more do they want?
Well, it turns out that they are just advocating watermarking your images so that they cannot be stolen. This may be a problem for some photographers, but I have noticed that mine are rarely taken. Even when they are, they are returned in better condition than when they went and one kind soul even pinned a five-dollar note to my collar and said that he hoped my eyesight would recover.
Putting the watermark in the dead centre of the image and making it complex and intrusive seems to be the key advice. This is to make it hard to remove. It is also the key to making people looking away in disgust in the first place - if something looks ugly, it looks ugly, and unless your intention is to make tee shirts for the adolescent market, you are probably better not going down that road.
You can't watermark an idea, and you can be darned sure that there are photographers out there who would be better than you at realising your vision once you give them a hint. It's happened with innumerable television and motion picture plots - even the supposed geniuses of the Monty Python crew were not above pinching things out of books that they probably thought would never be seen. They were wrong.
I have been told that there are computer programs that make it impossible to steal an image from the internet and do so with a simple 13,000 line HTML text that anyone can learn to type. What could possibly go wrongggggg@j^ VV 2 gtkksw,mswp[-cvoe.
In the end, I would merely publish and damn the thieves. Put your name on the thing if you dare and hope that at some stage of the game someone will see it. Keep the raw file with all the data on it in your own records - never send that out. You can always refer to it when the person who steals your image gets a lawyer to write a threatening letter to you.
On a related note - isn't it interesting these days when we get a request or demand from clients for raw files in addition to other formats? Or the final working file that is used to produce a custom print? I cannot remember ever being asked for the negative, transparency, or darkroom printing notes and.or masks in the analog printing days. One sent in transparencies for block making but that was on the basis that someone paid you for the transparency and they could go make blocks and you could go buy groceries - a very good exchange.
I've had the ask a couple of times in relation to studio shoots and once after doing computer work for an image that the client submitted. The studio shoots were paid for and I judged that the use of them was such that there was never going to be any likelihood of further sale of images from them - and in spirit of friendliness relinquished some of the files. If they show up in any altered form I will show the originals and let the viewers make their own judgement. In the case of the computer work I flatly refused - it was asking for work unpaid and I stopped picking cotton for Ol' Massa when Lincoln freed the slaves.