Copywriting digital photos

Amateur photographer Stephen never thought his images were special or needed copyright protection. Then he discovered one of his photos was stolen off the net and used on the cover of a magazine without his knowledge and permission. He shares important advice for anyone who posts images on the web.

copyright In a digital world it is easy to take photographs, place them online and make them available worldwide for family, friends and others to enjoy. If your photos are among the millions of others displayed on the web, take steps to protect them.

Your photographs belong to you and you alone. Whether an amateur or professional photographer, there are steps to take to protect images from being used by others without permission.

In the United States (and some other countries), the moment a photograph is taken it is protected by Copyright laws.

Unless you attribute a Creative Commons license to a photo, no one is allowed to reproduce it without your express permission. They can not display it publicly, prepare derivatives of it, or distribute it to the public for sale, rental or lending.

But not everyone respects copyright laws. When they don’t,  it is a long, tedious and often costly undertaking going after infringers. And there are no guarantees if you do.

Protect photos before a copyright infringement occurs

Understanding your rights as a copyright holder and taking steps before an infringement occurs can prove beneficial in the event someone uses an image without permission and you decide to pursue legal remedies.

Notice of copyright

Although your photographs are protected under U. S. Copyright laws from the moment they are created and no copyright notice is required under U. S. law, there are benefits to posting copyright notices on your photographs.

According to the U. S.Copyright Office website:

“(Notice of copyright) informs the public that the work is protected by copyright, identifies the copyright owner, and shows the year of first publication. Furthermore, in the event that a work is infringed, if a proper notice of copyright appears on the published copy or copies to which a defendant in a copyright infringement suit had access, then no weight shall be given to such a defendant’s interposition of a defense based on innocent infringement in mitigation of actual or statutory damages, except as provided in section 504(c)(2) of the copyright law. Innocent infringement occurs when the infringer did not realize that the work was protected.”

Placement of copyright notice on photographs

Proper placement of the notice of copyright should contain three elements.

  1. The symbol  © (the letter C in a circle), or the word “Copyright,” or the abbreviation “Copr.”
  2. The year of first publication of the work. In the case of compilations or derivative works incorporating previously published material, the year date of first publication of the compilation or derivative work is sufficient. The year date may be omitted where a pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work, with accompanying textual matter, if any, is reproduced in or on greeting cards, postcards, stationery, jewelry, dolls, toys, or any useful article;
  3. The name of the owner of copyright in the work, or an abbreviation by which the name can be recognized, or a generally known alternative designation of the owner.  Example: © 2009 John Doe
This article was contributed by Stephen Murphy.

Disclaimer: Content in this article is informational only. For complete, accurate and up-to-date information, or if you seek legal advice, contact an attorney.

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11 Responses

  1. Gail Bjork says:

    julie, you can register them with the U. S. Copyright office, or use a copyright attorney. You can also consider getting them apprised by a photo expert, such as Daile Kaplan, to see if they have any value.

  2. julie slusher says:

    I have one-of-a-kind family photos from the 30’s and 40’s of motorcycle events from Daytona Beach and Harley Davidson and Indian races from around the country. How do I go about copywriting these photos to sell as posters.

  3. L Henley says:

    I use this program and it wasn’t costly, and very easy to use. I too take a lot of photographs that I would like to keep from being “taken” for someones use without my knowledge. I hope this helps in finding a decent program for you.

  4. Jay J. says:

    If you are using Google’s Picasa to upload your pic’s to Picasa Web Albums, you can easily have the program mark all of your shots at the time you upload.  Just use alt+169 and input the year and name in the watermark field and the program takes care of the rest.  This eliminates the need to mark each image one at a time.  Be careful not to add any watermarks to the bottom right area (the customary area)  of your images because Picasa will superimpose the new one over the existing one.  Enjoy this great feature of Picasa.

  5. Gail Bjork says:

    Thanks so much for the tips and helpful resources Jonathan!

  6. Jonathan says:

    For web posting, you’ll need to use ‘& c o p y ;‘ minus the spaces in between the characters.  Do not copy and paste the © symbol into web pages.  It may not always show up as you expect on all computers.

    See the following for more ASCII web codes:
    http://webdesign.about.com/od/localization/l/blhtmlcodes-ascii.htm

  7. Jonathan says:

    ALT + 0169
    Spencer is talking about the Windows ALT + number combination to enter special characters when typing.

    Use the Character Map application in windows to discover the key combinations for special characters in different Windows font sets.

    http://www.spike-jamie.com/alt-codes.html shows a list of ALT + Number key combinations.  I believe  combinations are font specific.

    Find the character map application under the “Accessories” and / or “System Tools” folder which is under the “Accessories” folder.

    On some systems the character map application is not installed by default.  You will need to go into Add/Remove programs to install the windows application. 

    Google search any other further questions.

  8. Gail Bjork says:

    Spencer, I’m not clear about the question in the last sentence. Please clarify. As to the copyright symbol, yes, it’s fine to just copy and paste it. In many programs, such as Word, you can also insert the copyright symbol via the Insert menu: Insert > Symbol. Once inserted into a document, you can copy and paste it too.

  9. spencer says:

    this is a little late, but may help someone else.
    theres a shortcut key combination that allows windows to type this symbol, however, since I forget, just copy the one in the article above and paste it to a text file on your computer for later use.
    Part 2 is a question about the article; if a photo is “©” the second its snapped, then how can you claim you didnt know since after all, if its a photo, its copyrighted. thanks, nice site

  10. Yatin says:

    try winwatermark, i have used it in various ways to protect snaps.

  11. LylythGrey says:

    Can you reccomend an editing program that includes the little c in a circle? I am starting a business and need to copyright my images before posting.  In need of something that can flank my shots to prevent others from editing it out.