What’s A Copyright Got To Do With It?

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Want To Copyright Your Photographs? Here’s What To Do

When it comes to photography, you’ve probably thought of copyrighting one of your photos. Who hasn’t? It’s a great way to keep your photos, well, yours! If you’re thinking of copyrighting a photo, you’ve come to the right place! To make this process easier, I’ll guide you throughout the entirety of the process. 

To make things easier, I’ve broken the process down into 3 categories: What Does It Mean To Copyright A Photo?, How Photos Are Copyrighted, and Getting Your Photo Added To Public Records

What Does It Mean To Copyright A Photo?

In short, getting your photo copyrighted means that you own what is rightfully yours. According to the law, this means that only you have the right to post the image as yours unless permission is given to someone else. Or, in simpler words, it means that anyone who reposts the image without giving credit or asking permission is stealing. But why exactly does this matter? Do people really steal photos? 

Unsurprisingly, people will steal anything. This includes online media. Lets say that you posted a beautiful photograph of the forest online. One day you wake up to find that your image has been reposted by someone you don’t know and they’re claiming that they took it! Well, having the copyrights to your photo means that you can ask them to take it down. If they refuse, you can report the photo and have it forcefully taken down. Copyrights will come in handy if you ever happen to have your photo stolen. But how exactly can you get ownership of your photo?

How Photos Are Copyrighted

The answer to this question might surprise you. Copyrighting a photo is actually really, really easy! The second that your photo is posted online, it’s considered yours. Really, it’s that easy! But does this stop people from stealing? Is having the rights to your photo really going to stop people from stealing? No, of course not. This is especially frustrating for new photographers that need all the exposure that they can get. If your photo spreads like wildfire, having the legal rights to that photo doesn’t matter. It’s been spread to the point that there’s no way to catch everyone who’s taken it. That’s where a watermark comes into play.

Watermarks range from adding your name and blog site to one of the corners of the screen to adding a unique design to the image. I’m sure you’ve seen stock photos with the website’s name plastered in the back. Watermarks don’t need to take away from the image, however. You can add small text somewhere in the image with your name and the year your image was made. Serious photographers or clients will examine the image and come across this watermark. This will get you the same amount of exposure and protect your hard work. You should also note that, when it comes to an online portfolio, you’re able to turn off whether or not it’s viewable to the public. This is usually done by turning ‘off’ or ‘on’ whether it’s available for the world to see.

But let’s say someone is particularly determined to ruin your day and removed the watermark from the photo. What can you do now? You even asked them to take it down and they didn’t! To make matters worse, they posted it on their own website. What can you do in this scenario? Can you do anything at all?

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Getting Your Photo Added To Public Records

There actually is something you can do! Having the copyrights to your photo gives you and only you the right to post the photo. This is backed up by the law. What I’m saying is that if someone were to steal your photo and refuse to give you credit, you can pursue legal action. While you can pursue legal action without any paperwork, it’ll make the matter more of a headache. Plus, you’d only be remediated for the ‘actual damage’, or remediation only for what you lost. Registering it with the U.S. Copyright Office allows you to get $150,000 AND legal fees. Sounds a bit better right? You might be thinking that this process is difficult and time-consuming. Well, I’ve got good news for you. It’s actually really easy!

In order to register with the U.S. Copyright Office, simply head to their website. The process itself is very simple and just requires you to upload your work and wait for it to be approved. The process will go much faster if you upload your photo within 3 months of its original upload online. Because of how simple it is, most photographers will go through this process in order to protect their work. This process also makes you look a bit more professional, something you always want when growing your photography business.

Recap Of What We Learned

Here are a few things that you should remember before you head offline today. Copyrighting gives you legal rights to your photo. It’s your hard work, your time, and your money so it’s rightfully yours. Because you’ve worked so hard to get that perfect photo, protecting it should be your priority. To do this, put a watermark on the photo. This can range from something as simple as a small, transparent design to a logo with your name and website on it. When in doubt, just place the © onto the photo to discourage people from confusing it with a photo that’s open domain.

If you want to better protect yourself from your photo being stolen or better prepare yourself if you ever need to take legal action, registering your photo with the U.S Copyright Office is a wise decision. This is a simple process that only takes a few clicks to complete. It’s not worth having your photo stolen and being powerless to do anything about it. This is generally considered good practice and most photographers will do it. 

Your photo is your hard work. When it comes to protecting your hard work, always consider putting a watermark on the photo. Though you have legal rights to your photo by default, it doesn’t mean it has your name on it.

4 thoughts on “What’s A Copyright Got To Do With It?”

  1. So where do you go (online? – url?) to upload pictures to be copyrighted and does it cost anyting? Do you get any documentation to prove it is copyrighted?

    1. David Molnar - Your Photography Mentor

      Liz, you can add your personal watermark in the editing process to further help prove it is yours. You can also go the U.S. Copyright office and go through that process.

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