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Is it really okay to remove a watermark?

beth_price
Ace Contributor
Elizabeth P Member Since: Jul 24, 2015
1 of 12

Just wondering whether I’ve misunderstood watermarks and/or copyright law. I flagged and reported a job yesterday that clearly asked for someone to remove a “stubborn” watermark from an Adobe PDF. The response I received from support was the post would be investigated and appropriate action taken. The posting remained up, and a freelancer was hired.

 

My report to support cited both Upwork’s Terms of Use regarding illegal work and an article about US copyright law which explained “it is specifically ILLEGAL to remove a watermark from a photo, AND punishable with up to an additional $25,000 fine in statutory damages. Not only is the act of removal prohibited, the courts assume that the very attempt indicates a willful intent to violate somebody's copyright.”

 

What am I missing? Is it ever okay to remove a watermark?

jmlaidlaw
Community Guru
Janean L Member Since: Apr 6, 2016
2 of 12

I saw the same job and had the same question. My immediate thought was: "Whom is this client trying to cheat out of a copyright?"

joerowan
Ace Contributor
Joseph R Member Since: Aug 5, 2015
3 of 12

what was the file? was there a sample?

tlsanders
Community Guru
Tiffany S Member Since: Jan 15, 2016
4 of 12

The only scenarios I can think of in which it would be legal would involve the legal owner of the image (original creator or a bona fide purchaser) having somehow lost or destroyed the original image and attempting to recreate.

 

I also had a situation once in working on a book wherein I had a very old image that was copy protected, and was able to obtain written permission from the rights holder to get that photo "unlocked" because it was easier for them than searching out the original image in digital format to send to me.

 

I'd be pretty surprised if those sorts of things were the situation here.

beth_price
Ace Contributor
Elizabeth P Member Since: Jul 24, 2015
5 of 12

Tiffany, that's what I was thinking, too, though I was having a hard time coming up with situations where legal owners wouldn't be able to access an original or unmark something they'd watermarked themselves. Your example provided one such occasion, so thank you. I too would be surprised if this posting was legit. @Joseph R: the posting did not include the file, so I don't know what it was.

joerowan
Ace Contributor
Joseph R Member Since: Aug 5, 2015
BEST ANSWER
6 of 12

>> the posting did not include the

>> file, so I don't know what it was

 

Ok. That is always where I start when evaluating the legality of removing a watermark. Context is everything in these situations.

 

I had a job a month or 2 ago where I removed over 8k of watermarks and replaced with a new WM. However, the documents were from the California State Legislature and thereby public. However, when the job was posted, there was no sample and until I saw what the exact situation was, I held back. When it turned out to be just a re-branding for a different agency, I went with the job, wrote a script and had it done overnight.

 

Bottom line: Until you see the PDF and the exact request, you cannot assume it is legal or illegal. Afterwards, you can have that little argument with the little angel on one shoulder and the little devil on the other.

 

On a related note, the type of PDF altering jobs that many people don't think to much about, but are equally bad are requests to alter bank statements in PDF form. When that is posted, you can be sure the 'client' is looking to do something like secure a loan they are no where near qualified for.

 

It's straight up fraud.

 

(edited: fixed a typo)

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petra_r
Community Guru
Petra R Member Since: Aug 3, 2011
7 of 12

@Elizabeth P wrote:

 I was having a hard time coming up with situations where legal owners wouldn't be able to access an original or unmark something they'd watermarked themselves.


 I als suspect THAT posting was not "ok" but I have watermarked images and then lost the originals (I am VERY bad at backing up files, remembering where I backed them up TO and regularly murder computers and laptops with priceless (to me) pictures.

 

I have painstakingly removed watermarks from precious memories in the past because I lost DVD / fried hard drive etc etc etc and could only access them online...

mariawicz5
Community Guru
Maria A Member Since: Apr 6, 2016
8 of 12
I see these job postings regularly in graphic design and people applying to them which is a shame.
robert_y
Active Member
Robert Y Member Since: Sep 7, 2016
9 of 12

As a stock photographer I can tell you that a watermark is there to disuade people from infringing on the copyright of the photographer, filmmaker or illustrator. It "may" not be illegal to remove the watermark but it most certainly is illegal to infringe on the author's copyright to the image and that copyright will  almost always accompany a watermark. The copyright belongs to the original creator not the agency that is selling the image. It's primarily the creative individual you're hurting not the agency.

 

Morally the onus shoiuld be on Upwork to filter out any requests that watermarks be removed. To remove a wartermark is akin to aiding and abetting the theft of images from photographers, filmmakers and illustrators who are trying to make an honest living in what is a very lean and a very competitive market.

 

Please don't support this practice. Thank you.

 

Blowing off some steam . . . well that makes me feel a "little" better.

 

brianajross
Community Leader
Briana R Member Since: Jul 8, 2015
10 of 12

This raises a question: say a client provides an image that isn't watermarked but which they don't have rights to and the freelancer doesn't know this. Does UpWork provide protection to the freelancer in case a lawsuit is raised? 

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