While many photographers place watermarks including their name and/or the copyright notice on their images to prevent someone from infringing them, it’s fairly easy to crop or clone over the mark. Fortunately, the DMCA section of the Copyright Act provides an even better reason to use watermarks.
Section 1202 of the U.S. Copyright Act makes it illegal for someone to remove the watermark from your photo so that it can disguise the infringement when used. The fines start at $2500 and go to $25,000 in addition to attorneys’ fees and any damages for the infringement. The pertinent part of the statute is included below:
Section 1202. Integrity of copyright management information . . .
(b) REMOVAL OR ALTERATION OF COPYRIGHT MANAGEMENT INFORMATION.
No person shall, without the authority of the copyright owner or the law:
(1) intentionally remove or alter any copyright management information . . .
(3) distribute . . . copies of works . . . knowing that copyright management information has been removed or altered without authority of the copyright owner . . . knowing . . . that it will . . . conceal an infringement of any right under this title.
(c) DEFINITION. . . . “[C]opyright management information” means any of the following information conveyed in connection with copies . . . of a work . . . or displays of a work, including in digital form . . . :
(2) The name of, and other identifying information about, the author of a work.
(3) The name of, and other identifying information about, the copyright owner of the work, including the information set forth in a notice of copyright. . . .
Section 1203. Civil remedies
(b) POWERS OF THE COURT. In an action brought under subsection (a), the court . . .
(3) may award damages under subsection (c);
(4) in its discretion may allow the recovery of costs by or against any party . . . ; [and]
(5) in its discretion may award reasonable attorney’s fees to the prevailing party . . .
(c) AWARD OF DAMAGES. (1) IN GENERAL. . . . [a] person committing a violation of . . . 1202 is liable for either
(A) the actual damages and any additional profits of the violator . . . or
(B) statutory damages, as provided in paragraph (3).
(3) STATUTORY DAMAGES. . . .
(B) At any time before final judgment is entered, a complaining party may elect to recover an award of statutory damages for each violation of section 1202 in the sum of not less than $2,500 or more than $25,000.
And the even better news? You don’t have to have registered your photo in advance to recover under this statute.
Take my advice; get professional help.