Monday, August 13, 2012

What do photographers need to do to protect and document their copyright?

Copyright? In Part I of my copyright series, “I'm not a "Pro." Why should I worry about copyrighting my photos?” I discussed why both professional and amateur photographers, and even weekend vacationers should seriously consider taking measures to raise the level of their copyright and other protection for their photographs.

In this article, the series continues with practical suggestions to protect your photos and establish your copyright firmly. In the next, (last) article in the series, I will discuss copyright registration in the US, how and when you can, and why you should, register your photographs, and if your copyright is violated, what remedies registration extends to you, that you otherwise wouldn't have.

In digital photography there are two general display methods for your work, print and digital display. Prints pose little problem of theft and misuse, compared to digital display, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't be protected.
It's important to note that undercurrent copyright law, no copyright notice is needed to actually copyright a photograph. Every photograph is automatically copyrighted the moment it's made, but displaying your copyright notice will essentially eliminate a defendant's defense based on “innocent infringement.” You can't claim you didn't know the image was copyrighted, if the notice is on the photograph.
At the very least, a proper copyright notice should be stamped or written on the front or back of the print. If you're producing the print electronically, you can easily include a copyright notice on its face, as part of the photograph. Personally, I rarely do that, to not take away from the print's appearance. My copyright notice is stamped or printed on the back of the print. I include basic contact information with the notice. I generally sign the print in its border, or on its face.

For digitally displayed photographs, there are two locations where your copyright notice should be located, as per traditional copyright law, and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA); the face and the digital metadata of your photographs. In addition to the copyright notice, additional information should be place in the metadata to help preserve your copyright rights.

The official copyright notice has three parts: ©, the word “Copyright,” or its abbreviation, “Copr,” plus the year when the work was first published, and finally the name of the copyright owner.
The complete form can look as simple as:
© 2012 NSL Photography
I use a copyright notice which is more aesthetically pleasing to me, and more explicit in its statement, to place on the face of my photographs:
Copyright © 2012 NSL Photography, All Rights Reserved
Copyright notices in the US may be used without registering your images with the US Copyright Office.

I put a copyright notice on the face of every photograph I publish on the Internet, unless the publication in which the image is located specifically, gives me proper credit for the image, on the image, or directly adjacent to the image's location.

In addition to the above notice, which is visible on or near the image itself, with the advent of the DMCA, and the possible future passage of an Orphan Works Act, the notice should be inserted in each image's metadata.

I am fortunate that my DSLR has a feature which can automatically insert a copyright notice into each image's EXIF data, part of the image's metadata, when each image is made. Many DSLR's which don't have the feature, permit a comment to be inserted into each image, at the time it's made. That also can be used to insert your copyright notice.

If your camera can't automatically insert your copyright into each image as it's saved, then you will have to insert it yourself during post processing.

In addition to the copyright notice to better protect you, more data should be placed in the metadata of each image.

Here's a rundown of the copyright and contact data I put in my metadata:
  • Copyright Notice
  • Rights Usage Terms
  • Photographer's Name
  • Credit (In my case its my name and the name of my photography company.)
  • Source (Name of my photography company)
  • Copyright URL (URL of my galleries)
  • Contact City (Location City of my company)
  • Contact State (Location State of my company)
  • Contact Zip Code (Location Zipcode of my company)
  • Contact Country (Location Country of my company)
  • Contact Email Address
  • Contact Web URL (URL of my Travel Photography Blog)
I have many other metadata fields in which I insert data. They describe the photograph itself and include many IPTC standard codes and fields.

In addition to the copyright notice and metadata information placements,there are a few other practical practices you can utilize to help prevent theft of your images displayed on the web.
  • On some gallery sites you can disable “right click” menus and the edit menu which disables visitors' ability to easily copy your photographs via their web browser.
  • I reduce the longest side of my photographs to a maximum of 800 pixels. Keeping the image “small” reduces the attractiveness of the photo for theft, as it can't be printed at larger sizes, nor fill a typical computer screen without diminishing its quality.
  • I reduce the resolution of my photographs to no more than 125 pixels/inch. Like limiting the longest side of my photographs, this reduces the attractiveness of my photos for theft, as if enlarged, the images' quality will be diminished.
Taken together, the copyright notice, metadata contact information, and imposition of practical measures will protect your photos and give you legal recourse if your images are stolen and used without your permission, however, these measures aren't foolproof. Protected images are stolen daily, but using these measures will prevent many if not most thefts, and using copyright will give you a legal method to combat thefts.

The information in this article is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.


Tim - San Francisco said...

Great article. I'm going to begin reducing my resolution and image size immediately for my photos. Thanks.

Adrian - Little Rock said...

Ned, you say to reduce your image resolution for display on the internet. Won't that reduce my image quality in my galleries?

Ned S. Levi said...

Adrian, almost all computer screens display at the equivalent of 72-96 ppi (pixels per inch), so reducing your resolution to just above than resolution will maintain the image quality of your photographs in your web gallery.

I have a caveat. When making a photo for display on the web, keep your original for printing, to maintain your image quality for that output.

Out of the camera, my photographs have a resolution of 240 pixels per inch, and a size of 4928 x 3280 pixels.


Adrian said...

Thanks Ned. I'll be following your advice.

Whitney - London, Ontario said...

Ned, why not watermark your photos. Watermarks make the photos unusable for almost any purpose, so wouldn't they be better than just a copyright notice?

Ned S. Levi said...

Hi Whitney.

Watermarks can certainly cover much of a photo if large enough, but they make online image viewing impossible, except to get a basic idea of what the image will look like.

I want my photos to be shown off well in my galleries. Watermarks defeat that.

In addition, a watermark, as opposed to a copyright notice, can't convey the message that the photograph is copyrighted, to whom the rights to the photo belong, and that it's still a protected image. Watermarks don't protect the photographer from claims of innocent infringement, nor that the rights owner hasn't abandoned the image.

Jan - Chicago said...

So, let me get this straight. I need to put in my copyright in two locations, in the EXIF file and on the photo too?

Ned S. Levi said...

No, I didn't exactly say that Jan, but if you want have maximum protection, the answer is yes.

Part of the problem is that with the DMCA we have a great deal of unsettled law. We don't know if just a digital copyright in the metadata is enough for a digital photograph, or if we need the more traditional copyright notice on the face of the digital image, or both.

The effort to put the copyright on/in the photo is generally trivial for both. I would definitely put a copyright notice in the metadata. I believe the DMCA is clear it should be there. I also put a copyright notice on the face of my photographs for 2 reasons.

First, those who are unaware of metadata can't claim they didn't know the photo was copyrighted if it's also on the face of the photo.

Second, some software strips the metadata from digital photos deleting the digital copyright notice. If the copyright notice is solely in the metadata which is stripped, the notice is totally gone and your notice safeguard is also gone.

I hope this helps.

Vic - Springfield said...

Ned, thanks for the explanation about why you choose not to use watermarks. I hadn't considered about their shortcomings compared to a copyright notice on the face of the photo.

Is there a way to put a copyright notice on my photos quickly. I don't want to have to manually add it every time.

Ned S. Levi said...

Vic, I use Photoshop. To put copyrights on my photos I've created an action by having Photoshop memorize my commands and keystrokes, while I made a copyright notice.

Then each time I want to place a copyright notice on a photo, I just run the action. I may or may not need to move it to the exact "right" place, but that's the only manual part of it.

I hope this helps.

Alex Smith said...

Just above than resolution will maintain the image quality of your photographs in your web gallery.
Santa Clarita Senior Photography

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