For most photographers, copyright is something they don’t know a lot about. Protecting your images from theft and use without your permission should be something you do before you post your images online though. Many people think that everything is free on the internet and they just copy and paste without thought to the consequences. However, the consequence of using an image without permission is copyright infringement. As a photographer, if someone uses your photo for commercial purposes without your permission you may be able to collect damages. Also, think of the damage to your brand if someone takes one of your photos and runs a crappy filter on it, and reposts it. Do you want your brand associated with bad work? Of course not!
Educate yourself about copyright laws
Although in most instances you as the photographer own the copyright to any image you produce, there are exceptions. This post is in no way able to cover all the nuances of copyright law. But one example I have seen was in my previous home state of Arkansas. There is a historic house there called The Jacob Wolf House near Norfork, AR. There is a sign on the property warning that images may not be used due to the house being trademarked. You also can’t use an image with a McDonald’s sign featured prominently in the image without the risk of trademark and copyright infringement. Take my advice and do some homework.
In general you own the copyright to the photos you take as soon as you click the shutter. This post isn’t about copyright law as much as how to protect your copyrighted works from being stolen by others. As a photographer an online portfolio is almost a necessity these days. Below are a few ways to help protect yourself from those who would seek to use your work without your permission. Obviously you can’t police the internet 24/7 and find every instance of your photos being used without your permission. But using these tips you’ll have a much greater chance of prevailing and at least getting them to cease and desist using your work without compensation.
Copyright starts in your camera
If you own a DSLR there is usually a screen in your camera’s menu to embed your copyright information in your image. Set your copyright information there as your first line of defense. This information will be embedded in the image as EXIF data even if you only shoot jpeg in your camera. To test this choose one of your jpeg images and right-click the image. Choose properties and then click the details tab when the properties window opens. Under details, you will see the information you entered. Mine shows me as the author, the date and time taken, as well as the copyright information. Be sure your time and date are set correctly in your camera. You can use that embedded info to show when you shot the image. It’ll be pretty hard for an unscrupulous website to claim the image is theirs if the images are exactly the same and all they have is the date months later the image showed up on their site. Also, make sure you go in at the first of the year and update the year of copyright.
Embed copyright information using Photoshop
If you use Adobe Photoshop did you know you can also embed your copyright data in your exported photos? If you forgot to set your info in your camera, on the file menu click on file info or use the keyboard shortcut Alt+Shift+Ctrl+I. If you added the copyright info in your camera it will already be showing in the metadata here. There are a lot of tabs to add further information if you want such as your address and telephone number, credit line, instructions, etc. If you save the file then use the right click method as before, you will see all your information in the metadata.
Disable right-click on your website
If you use WordPress to design your web sites like I do, there are plugins that will allow you to disable the right mouse button to prevent theft of your images or copying your writing. Some people will steal your images right off your web site. Disabling the ability to right click and copy or save prevents that from happening. The use is somewhat controversial but I use it on my photography sites. I use a plugin that prevents the right click and if the right click button is clicked again a pop up warning displays to remind the person the content on the page is copyrighted. Use disable right click at your own risk.
These are a few of the ways you can make sure your copyright on your photos isn’t infringed. If you have other ways you protect your images let us know in the comments below.
If you want to learn more and take your photography journey to the next level you might like the Photography Master Class. This video course will definitely help you on your journey to be a better photographer.
Check out more great photography tips on our Photography Tips & Tricks page.