How to Add a Copyright Notice to Your Photos

All of the photos I post online include a copyright symbol and my name or Web address. No, this won’t prevent everyone from using my images without permission — but it will stop some people from doing it.

And if someone intentionally deletes or hides my copyright notice, it shows intent to commit a crime.

Protecting Your Work

I’m not an expert on copyright, but I do know that the moment you create a photograph (under U.S. law, anyway), the photograph is copyrighted in your name. Technically, you don’t have to register each image with the copyright office, but there are benefits if you do.

If someone uses one of your photos without your permission after it’s registered, for example, you are entitled to statutory damages and legal fees, in addition to being compensated for usage fees. Without registration, you would only get compensation for the usage.

And you don’t have to register each individual photo. You can group your images together and register them for one fee; putting 100 images on a disc and calling them “Collected Works of Jeff Wignall, Volume I,” for example. The United States Copyright Office has an informative Web site that explains the laws very clearly.

Projecting Your Brand

Legalities aside, adding your copyright notice has the effect of discouraging at least some people from casually downloading and using your images.

Personally, I don’t mind if a college kid uses one of my sunset shots as their wallpaper. If someone uses one of my sunsets on their Web site, however, they’ll have to negotiate it with me first.

Adding your name to your images demonstrates that you have a certain pride in your work, and projects your brand. You see brand names on everything these days, so why shouldn’t your photos carry yours?

Where’s the ©?

OK, now that I’ve convinced you, you’ve probably noticed that there is no “©” (copyright) symbol on your keyboard. So how do you put a copyright symbol on your work?

If you’re using Photoshop and a Mac, it’s easy. Just click on the type tool and hold down the option key and type the letter “g” and that will produce the symbol. If you’re using Windows, click on the type tool, hold down the Alt key, and press 0169 on the numbers keyboard to produce the symbol. Then, type your name or business name into the text box.

You can also find the copyright symbol in your extra characters palette in either Mac or Windows. You can then just copy and paste the symbol where you need it.

Where should you place the copyright notice? On pictures that I know might be in high demand (like those of the popular musicians I photograph), I put the symbol in a place where it’s difficult to alter. I even put it across the face if I think it’s warranted.

For most images, however, I think a subtle notice in a corner makes the point. Sure, that makes it easier for someone to clone it away if they have larceny in mind — but again, cloning out a copyright notice with intent to avoid paying for an image is a serious crime.

14 Responses to “How to Add a Copyright Notice to Your Photos”

  1. Personally, for my work, I don't apply a copyright watermark. My reasons are for myself and in no manner a suggestion that you shouldn't.

    Last month I discovered one of my images had been stolen. It had been part of a Flash slideshow and the thief went as far as doing a screen grab. They then posted the image on a Web site.

    The image was registered with the copyright office and when I caught up with the thief, I explained that it was about to rain fire down upon them. The person removed the image and wrote a confession and apology on my blog.

    People are going to steal your images. Having a watermark may help keep a few honest people honest, but solid plan, which includes copyright registration, is a better tool to recovering damages when someone decides to steal your property.

  2. This is just great. Thank you so much for the information. I now know more than I did before I read this blog and I really appreciate the information. It's the "collected works" info that was extremely helpfu. Thanks again.

  3. Tony, I agree with your point that registration is the more important issue and I think that making it a habit to regularly copyright your best images is, of course, the best legal protection. I did leave out one other point that I should have made in the story, though: a lot of people don't know that it's illegal to take photos off of the web. Strange, but true. A co-worker of a friend of mine, for example, was regularly downloading images from the web to use in their company's e-newsletters. It wasn't until someone she worked with asked where she was getting the photos that she found out it wasn't legal. A lot of people who used to use clip art back in the print days and who aren't particularly knowledgeable about the digital world think of the web as pure clip art. I don't know if the copyright symbol slows them down or not, but hopefully it educates them a bit.

    But your point still stands: registration is the ultimate defense.


  4. Hi Jeff,

    Excellent article. I don't watermark my images but have all of them registered with the copyright office of Canada that I sell in print or display on my website.

    I find the general consensus is that buyers prefer not to see watermarks as it spoils their viewing experience. It's also a rule of mine to not upload an image of more than 70 dpi at no more than 1000 pixels wide/high; this severely makes it impossible for someone to reprint my images in any quality worth selling (I sure as heck wouldn't sell something of that quality).

    If I can't print it and my commercial printing lab can't..then I doubt johnny freebie can on his deskjet.

    Digital watermarking is another thing to explore, I think it's available in photoshop though I don't use photoshop. I think there's information all over that for the web, though, if you shop around for info you're sure to find a lot of techniques to deter thieves.

    Thanks for the article,


  5. When I don't want to spoil a photo with a watermark I usually mark it with an invisible signature. More details at

  6. Thanks so much for the insight! I wasn't sure if I was allowed to just throw my copyright symbol and name on my pictures, or if that was somehow "faking" the copyright to my images. Thanks for the tips!!

  7. What happens where items photographs etc are in the public domain, those that may come from magazines, peoples collections and are uploaded to the net for the general audience of the internet's pleasure.Surely it is an offence to down load copy and sell these items, they belong to someone somewhere. Ebay and the like are often an easy selling outlet for these items where sellers masquerade as something they are not, and make a fortune in the process.

  8. Thanks for this Jeff. I'm basically a beginner at freelancing but definitely want to copyright my material. Problem is I can't seem to find information (even on the Canadian copyright website) that indicates how I go about getting my photos to the copyright office for registration purposes.

    What are the steps? Do I send them a CD/DVD with the registration form?

    I've just started reading your NEW Joy of Digital photography! Lots of interesting details. Good read!!

  9. Thank you for this valuable information share. This is useful to protect our hard works.

  10. Rob asks:
    "What happens where items photographs etc are in the public domain... Surely it is an offence to down load copy and sell these items, they belong to someone somewhere."

    If an item is in the public domain, it means that the copyright has expired, or the creator has chosen to forego their copyright monopoly. They belong to everyone, and you can do whatever you like with them.

    Jess said:
    "a lot of people don't know that it's illegal to take photos off of the web."

    Whether it's illegal or not depends on whether they are in copyright, and what the terms of the copyright license are. If they are in the public domain, as mentioned above, no use is illegal. Some people also choose to license their images under a CreativeCommons (CC) license, which at their most permissive allow legal copying, distribution, commercial use, and mash-ups, as long as you acknowledge the creator. More restrictive CC licenses can disallow commercial use (NonCommercial clause) or mash-ups (No-Derivatives clause), or introduce a requirement that any derivative work is released under the same license terms (Share-Alike clause).

  11. I came across your site when trying to get better understanding of the copyright low in order to avoid infringement of any copy rights.
    I would appreciate having your opinion regarding my questions:

    1. Is it allowed to download pictures/photos from the web not for any use beside having it on the PC hard drive for later display
    (considering the fact that technically speaking, almost any picture from the web shown on the screen is actually already in the cache on the hard drive) ?

    2. Assuming the answer to question 1 is yes,
    is it allowed to store those pictures/photos (not to share with anyone) in any free storage like Picasa, Microsoft etc. ?

    3. Assuming the answer to question 2 is also yes,
    How Picasa, Microsoft etc. decide if pictures stored in their services is copy righted ?

    4. Are the answer for the above applied also to attaching copy righted pictures to an e-mail ?

    Hope my questions are not bothering you too much,
    I really like to understand better the copy right issue.



  12. Typing © on Windows is a bit tricky. I even recorded a video to show how it should be done:

  13. Thank you so much for the wealth of information. As mentioned in earlier comments, the Copywrighting of Collected Works was a bit of new information to me & greatly appreciated!
    This is the first I've visited your blog, but only the first of many future visits. 🙂 I enjoy photography & am so delighted to have been directed to your article thus finding a new place of interest for me.

  14. This is great technique. Tired of people staling my images and personal work daily.

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