How to Copyright Photographs

Two Methods:Registering a CopyrightPosting with Copyrights and Watermarks

According to the Berne Convention, you automatically own the copyright on any original photograph that you take.[1] The problem arises when someone else tries to rip you off and you have to prove that you are the owner of the copyright on your photos. By registering your photographs with the U.S. Copyright Office, you'll obtain independent, legally-permissible proof that you own the copyright on your work. This can make it much easier to navigate intellectual property lawsuits.

Method 1
Registering a Copyright

  1. Image titled Copyright Photographs Step 1
    Register photographs with the U.S. Copyright Office. Technically speaking, any photograph that you take automatically belongs to you for a minimum of 25 years.[2] In practice, however, you will need to formally register your images if you want to bring a lawsuit for infringement upon your work. A copyright will provide solid legal evidence of your ownership, which can make it much easier to fight back against intellectual property infringements.[3] You can register your photographs online or through the mail.
    • If you register your photographs, you are eligible to collect statutory damages of up to $150,000 for each copyright infringement.[4]
    • Avoid third-party, non-governmental copyright registration services. You might be able to avoid fees with these services, but your claim to the copyright will not hold up so strongly in a court of law.
  2. Image titled Copyright Photographs Step 2
    File online, if possible. If you are going through the U.S. Patent Office, it is generally cheaper, quicker, and more straightforward to register your photographs electronically rather than sending your work through the mail. You can register just one photograph, or a whole body of published work.[5] Visit the U.S. Copyright Office website to get started.[6]
    • It will cost you $35 to register online, and $50 to register through the mail. The cost may vary depending on how many photos you're filing at once.[7]
    • The processing time for electronic copyright filing is usually up to 8 months. The processing period for paper filing may take as long as 13 months.[8] If you go through the mail, then you may need to save your pictures on a disc and send it in.
  3. 3
    Save your proof of copyright. A matter of months after you copyright a photograph, the U.S, Copyright Office will mail you a formal copyright registration certificate. Keep this paper proof in a secure place in case you ever need it.

Method 2
Posting with Copyrights and Watermarks

  1. Image titled Copyright Photographs Step 4
    Post an official copyright notice along with your images. First, write the © (the letter “c,” circumscribed), the word “Copyright,” or its abbreviation, “Copr.” Then, include the year in which the photograph was first published. Finally, display your name – the owner of the copyright: e.g. © 2016 Joseph Bustamante.[9]
    • Consider posting the relevant copyright information along with your photograph. Include the title, the name of the photographer, and the name of the copyright owner.
    • Posting copyright information next to a photograph can discourage Internet users from stealing your work. It's a warning: essentially, "I have copyrighted this work, and I'm not afraid to protect that copyright with a lawsuit!"
  2. Image titled Copyright Photographs Step 5
    Add a watermark with photo editing software. Use Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro, or whichever program you are accustomed to using.[10] The watermark can be as simple as your name, the name of your photography company, or a personal logo. This can be a great way to display and market sample photographs on the Internet without opening up the risk that people will steal them.
  3. Image titled Copyright Photographs Step 6
    Be smart about how you post your photographs. The Internet can be a wonderful way to share your work with the world, but it is also full of people who are happy to download and reproduce your pictures without giving you due credit. When you post your photographs, be aware of the implications of the medium you're using. Take careful steps to discourage people from stealing your work.
    • Carefully read the terms and conditions. If you post your photographs online or enter your work into a contest, always read the fine print to make sure that you aren't giving up any rights.
    • Disable “right-click” when you post an image. This way, it will be slightly more difficult for Internet browsers to copy and save your images.[12]


  • Don't rely on the "poor man's copyright." This is the act of mailing yourself a postmarked copy of the photograph (or any other creative work) in order to prove that you created it on or before a certain date. This method was much more effective in courts of law before the advent of photo-realistic color printers. Register a copyright to secure an independent, third-party claim to your intellectual property.[13]
  • The U.S. Copyright Office only serves photographers working in the United States. If you live and work outside the U.S., run a web search for specific copyright procedures in your country of residence.

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