Is that a... watermark?!


I’ve been noticing an increasing problem with small businesses on social media: the use of watermarked images in their marketing efforts.

I’m not talking about putting a watermark on your own work. I’m talking about using someone else’s photography that has a watermark on it. Typically this is a full-image watermark – like stock images that need to be purchased for use.  

The first time I saw this was actually by a small advertising agency, and I was more than a little horrified. Of all companies, they should know that it’s simply not okay to use watermarked images on social media! In that case, it happened to be a Canva image, which means they didn’t bother to download the image (for a mere $1, by the way). How unprofessional.

Since then, I’ve seen more and more of this behavior, which makes me wonder: do people really not know this is wrong?

Just in case the answer to that is “yes,” I’m writing this post to be a guide.

Using a watermarked image on social media that is not your own is illegal. That image is copyrighted as belonging to another person or company, and it does not matter if you are posting on behalf of a church (saw this one last week!), a dry cleaner, a restaurant – whatever – it is still illegal. And an “I didn’t know!” defense probably isn’t going to help you out if the company decides to sue.

Naturally, there are exceptions.

One of the small businesses I have been working with for years is a retail establishment and her vendors provide watermarked images for them to use in social media advertising. These images have a small watermark in one corner – NOT all over the image. And she has explicit, written permission to utilize these images.

But in the case of using watermarked imagery without this type of exception, why is it so wrong to use them? Well, again, it’s illegal. It’s also pretty unethical. People put time and effort into creating images – be those photographs, illustrations, digital images, etc. The artist’s time and effort went into them, and using them without their permission is disrespectful. Just like your business is out to make money so you can live, so is the artist.

So, why do people use watermarked images? The three most common excuses people use when confronted about using these images:

  1. “I didn’t know!” —> See above. That defense just isn’t good enough anymore. (And if you’ve heard that out of someone, may I suggest you recommend they hire someone to handle their social media marketing for them? I happen to know a company who would make sure they did not do this…hint hint.)

  2. “I didn’t have time to find another photo.” —> Skip the photo. Seriously. If you do not have time to find an image that isn’t watermarked to use, don’t use one at all.

  3. “I didn’t have the money to buy one!” —> Ah, my favorite excuse. I get it: most small businesses do not have a lot of extra money for marketing efforts. But you know the old saying “You have to spend money to make money”? It’s true – for several reasons. Marketing helps make your business money – but not if you don’t do things the right way. Not paying for stock images makes you look cheap, untrustworthy, and unprofessional. Think anyone is going to want to hire a business that projects that image? That would be a big fat nope. Additionally – there are a lot of FREE stock images sites (Pexels is my favorite, but others like Pixabay andUnsplash are good, too) out there, or ones like Canva that only cost $1 per image. You CAN afford that!

Before you post that next image on social media (or your website or blog), make sure it’s not watermarked.

And if you happen to see someone doing things wrong, share this post and Sunshine Marketing with them!