The already contentious relationship between AI and the creative industries could soon become even more complicated thanks to a free-to-use service that can completely remove watermarks from images. Watermark remover.io (as seen through Creative Block) is a tool offered by Pixelbin.io that removes identifiable watermarks with a single click and has sparked conversations around copyright protections since listed on Product hunt last year.
The functionality of Watermark Remover.io is not new – similar tools already exist, and you can also remove watermarks using things like Adobe Photoshop’s content-aware fill. However, these are not as accessible as Watermark Remover.io (they often have a paywall), which is completely free, available on the web and as an Android app, and does the job with a single click.
Platforms like Shutterstock and Adobe Stock apply large watermarks to their content to prevent the images from being used without permission. These companies may be happy with AI as it generates money for them, but they probably won’t be as excited about using it to steal their assets. And Watermark Remover.io allowed us to do that (theoretically) very well, all easy.
In our tests, the watermark style applied by Shutterstock and Adobe Stock was easily removed by Watermark Remover.io in seconds, with little to no artifacts left. It also managed to completely remove the large, unique watermarks Shutterstock uses on its preview images, though it was unable to remove those in a similar style used by Getty.
In fact, the watermark used by Getty proved to be the most resistant to automated removal tools of the three stock photo platforms I tested. (Getty Images has notably taken a different stance on AI compared to Shutterstock and Adobe, banning all AI-generated content from its platform over concerns over copyright claims and saying it will sue Stability AI over the “unlawful” scraping. of millions of images from his site to train stable diffusion.)
There are of course limitations to Watermark Remover.io. In addition to struggling to remove single, blocky watermarks, it had no success removing the artist signatures that sometimes appear on generative images.
There is also the issue of legality. While removing a watermark is without the original owner’s permission illegal in the US, the tools that allow users to bypass copyright protection such as Watermark Remover.io are not necessarily illegal themselves. As the current legal landscape surrounding AI and copyright laws is incredibly complicated, there are calls for clearer regulation.
The makers of Watermark Remover.io focus on its legality in a FAQ, saying: “Users of this app are solely responsible for all claims, damages, costs, expenses, lawsuits, etc. made by third parties related to the use of the resulting images that have had their watermarks removed. You must obtain the permission or approval of the original image owner before using the images with the watermark removed for commercial use.”
But the Watermark Remover is ultimately another interesting example of how AI can be used to harm and benefit different parts of the industry. In any case, for the image banks it seems that AI gives, but can also take away.