The already-contentious relationship between AI and the creative industry might soon get even more complicated thanks to a free-to-use service that can completely remove watermarks from images. Watermark Remover.io (as seen via Creative Bloq) is a tool offered by Pixelbin.io that removes identifiable watermarks with a single click and has sparked conversations surrounding copyright protections since being listed on Product Hunt last year.
The functionality of Watermark Remover.io isn’t new — similar tools already exist, and you can also remove watermarks using things like Adobe Photoshop’s content-aware fill. However, these aren’t as accessible as Watermark Remover.io (they’re often paywalled), 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 content with AI while it generates cash for them, but they likely won’t be so keen on it being used to steal their assets. And Watermark Remover.io enabled us to (theoretically) do that very, very easily.
In our tests, the style of watermark applied by Shutterstock and Adobe Stock was easily removed by Watermark Remover.io in a matter of seconds, with little to no artifacts remaining. It also succeeded in completely removing the large, singular watermarks that 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 out of the three stock image 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 amid concerns over copyright claims and saying it will sue Stability AI for “unlawfully” scraping millions of images from its site to train Stable Diffusion.)
There are, of course, limitations to Watermark Remover.io. Alongside struggling to eliminate singular, blockier watermarks, it didn’t have any success removing the artist signatures that sometimes appear on generative images.
There’s also the question of legality. While removing a watermark without the original owner’s consent is illegal in the US, the tools that allow users to circumvent copyright protections like Watermark Remover.io aren’t necessarily illegal themselves. As the current legal landscape surrounding AI and copyright laws is incredibly convoluted, there have been calls to implement clearer regulation.
The creators of Watermark Remover.io address its legality in an FAQ, saying: “Users of this app are solely responsible for any claims, damages, cost, expenses, suits, etc. brought by any third party pertaining to the usage of the resulting images with the watermarks removed. You need to get the original image owner’s consent or approval before you use the watermark removed images for any commercial use.”
But the Watermark Remover is ultimately another interesting example of how AI can be used to harm and benefit various parts of the industry. For the stock image companies, at least, it seems that AI giveth, but AI can also taketh away.