You hear it often. Copyright your photographs. However, it often ends there, with just the suggestion. So I decided I would record a tutorial on the process I go through to copyright images, in this case photographs from my recent trip to Arizona.

When discussing copyright and all the issues surrounding it, I think it is important to mention that I'm not a copyright lawyer or expert and only know what I've read or heard from those that are. I also see many message boards and comment sections that discuss copyright, however, I would avoid putting too much stock in those and instead just visit a site such as by Edward Greenberg and Jack Reznicki to get the facts.

This tutorial is in two parts. First, I go through my work flow of preparing the photos for upload and in the second part, I take you through the process of actually uploading the photographs to the U.S. Copyright Office.

Some things to keep in mind:

As the photographer you automatically own the copyright to the photograph unless you sign it away in writing. The one exception is if you are a full-time employee, then the employer owns the copyright as a "work made for hire."

Registration is required if you intend to file a lawsuit. If you registered you work before the infringement, or within three months of publication, then you can sue for statutory damages plus attorney fees.

Using © is no longer required, however you may still use it to clearly identify yourself as the copyright holder. How do I make that fancy © symbol? Option G on a Mac, Alt + 0169 on Windows and © in HTML.

While I don't copyright every photograph I take, I do when I intend to make the photographs commercially available or if I believe others may do the same without my permission.

Most of my photographs, even ones that I have previously copyrighted, are available through a creative commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerives license. This allows others to download my photos and share them as long I'm given credit, but cannot alter them or use them commercially.

Additional resources:
Editorial Photographers web site.
Visit for a step-by-step tutorial


Bad watermark example
Over the top, YES, but I've seen worse.
I hope this post doesn't come off as a rant, however, I will state right up front that I am not a fan of placing watermarks on photographs.

A watermark is an image, logo, or text that is placed directly on the photograph, most often to brand the photo, discourage reuse or to somehow imply copyright. In the past we might have stamped PROOF over the photograph, thus preventing copies being made. This was effective and that's not really what I'm talking about in this case, because I do understand the argument for continuing this practice when you have wedding, event photos or portraits that you're sharing with a client with the intent to sell.

What I'm talking about is selected images that you post to the web as examples of your work, or post to sites like 500px or Flickr were you are hoping for feedback. In these cases it is my opinion that the watermark comes off as a distraction and that's only if it is a tasteful muted watermark of appropriate size. In many cases the watermark is just plain ugly, too big and demonstrates poor post production skills.

To be fair, I've struggled with watermarks over the years and even created a few and tried them out on my images. It just never looked right to me, which maybe says something about my post production skills.

However, for me it's gotten so bad that when I'm browsing through sites like 500px, Flickr or Google+, I won't favorite or like a photo that has a watermark. In fact, I get really disappointed when an image I like has a watermark on it. I don't even know when this started, but it did, and now I can't get past it.

Some  photographers, such as Trey Ratcliff over at Stuck in Customs, provide large images on the web, available for anyone to download for personal use. The key is personal use.

My feeling is that whether an image contains a watermark or not, it can still be downloaded and used by someone as a background on their iPad for example. And that's assuming that whoever right clicks and downloads doesn't just eliminate the watermark by cropping or even using the content aware tool in Photoshop. Sounds pretty easy doesn't it.

So do I worry about my images being stolen? First, all the photos I shoot as part of my job are publicly released, so it isn't an issue. Second, when it comes to my personal images shared on sites like Flickr and 500px, I make them available as creative commons, non-commercial, attribute required. In the end, I'm not worried if a blogger uses the image as long as they provide photo credit in the form of a link because that potentially drives more traffic to my site. If they don't, then I'm not going to lose sleep.

So how do you truly protect your images. One word, copyright. That is the only real protection you have if one of your images ends up being used without permission, watermark or not. Copyrighting your photographs also provides you with additional protections. I'm planning a future post on the process and work flow I use to copyright my work, and why this is important. In the meantime, check out eCO FAQs, or visit Ed Greenberg and Jack Reznicki's blog.

Remix Alot

Everything is a Remix Part 1 from Kirby Ferguson on Vimeo.

I know I'm late to the game on this one, but I was checking out the blog of Vincent Laforet and his most recent post about Kirby Ferguson's "Everything is a Remix" series of videos. I'm late because Part 4 was released last month.

All that aside, I went back and watched the first four parts and was really amazed by the content and concepts presented. Really thought provoking stuff on copyright, reuse, credit, etc.

"FrankenVideo" is a term I've used for the past couple of years to describe what I sometimes find myself doing in my job with the Office of Naval Research. Much like the Frankenstein monster who was made up of many parts, most of the requests for videos I get are made up of many file formats and come from multiple sources. My job is to rearrange them to tell a coherent story. Additionally, copyright never seems to be an issue until I bring it up. Piecing these videos together is laborious, mostly because of the constraints of government oversight of the computer systems, along with unreasonable time frames. I get the job done, but just like making sausage, you don't want to know how I made it.

Not entirely the same as Ferguson's Remix series and I as I write this, maybe it is nothing like the series at all, however, there is one similarity. I do manage to take lots of parts of existing work and fashion an entirely different product. And much of the work is already publicly released, or even produced in house, so in that sense we are protected from copyright infringement. But what if a snippet here or there was from a copyrighted source?

Take the time to check out the entire series by visiting Ferguson's blog. Watching the series takes no time at all, thinking about the content, well...

TinEye for the next guy

I received a request a couple of weeks back from a Russian railway magazine for a photograph of robotic lobsters I took in 2005 during my first year working for the Office of Naval Research. I posted an update to this blog about the original shoot in December of that year.

I didn't realize it at the time, but that one day shoot north of Boston would produce probably the most requested photograph I've made here in seven years. Everyone from the Smithsonian's Cooper Hewitt museum to trade journals, websites and even apparently railway magazines in Russia have requested this image.

I bring this all up because I was demonstrating the TinEye reverse image search site to a coworker and happened to have the RoboLobster photo on my desktop (Russian railway magazine). I uploaded the image and one of the results was National Geographic - the Japanese edition mind you - but still I thought it was pretty funny.

Try out the service yourself, you never know? And if your images are not in the public domain like mine, and you've copyrighted them, it could mean a very nice payday as well.