© is for Copyright

1 Jan

© is for Copyright

© is for Copyright? I know I shouldn’t be, but I am always surprised at how little people know about copyright. To me and many others — pros and amateurs — the little “c” in the Copyright symbol is part of the basic ABCs of photography. You can find all sorts of appropriate principles for A and B, but C is definitely for Copyright.

© 2010 Margo Taussig Pinkerton. All Rights Reserved. For usage and fees, please e-mail TBC (at) BCphotoadventures (dot) com or contact us at 310 Lafayette Drive, Hillsborough, NC 27278 or at 919-643-3036 before 9 p.m. Eastern Time, ET. © is for CopyrightDo you really need to put your copyright notice on your image? The technical answer is no, at least for images produced after the late 80s, but it does come with a big BUT.

According to Circular 22 put out by the Copyright Office, the “Berne Convention Implementation Act of 1988 reduced formalities [of establishing copyright to one’s work], most notably making the addition of the previously mandatory copyright notice optional. ” Now, to the big BUT

If someone steals your image, you have no recourse except to trust in the goodness of the thief’s heart and his wonderful ethics. Yeah, right! A lot of good that will do you … that and a cup of overpriced coffee.

Embedding your copyright notice into your image metadata, putting it on your website, requesting in writing that those who have negotiated rights to use your photograph post your copyright notice, putting this information in your invoices and deliveries to a website other than your own, etc., all serve to put people on notice that you value the copyright to your images and you are doing everything you can to protect that right.

To make sure I wasn’t giving out erroneous information, I went to long-time friend and intellectual-property-rights expert, attorney David MacTavish in the Chicago region. While he was ASMP’s legal counsel, he worked closely with the Copyright Office to help effect improvements in the original Copyright Act of 1976. His law firm represents a number of clients in many creative fields.

“While a copyright owner’s work will no longer fall into the public domain, as it once did,” David says, “a copyright infringer can use the absence of notice to let a wrongdoer claim innocent infringement. That is, ‘I didn’t know the work was copyrighted.’

So, Why Do I Want to Copyright My Image?

“Hey, what do I care about copyright?” you ask. “I’m just doing this for fun…”

We’ve already answered that question, but let’s cite some examples:
• Do you want XYZ T-shirt company to steal your photograph and make thousands of dollars off it, giving you nothing?
• Do you want someone appropriating your photograph and claiming it as his/her own work?
• Are you comfortable with someone downloading a photograph of your daughter or granddaughter and using it in an ad about teen pregnancy, AIDS, or worse, child pornography?
• Would you like to find that wonderful photograph of your dad working out the solution to a difficult nuclear-physics problem in an article on Alzheimer’s?
© 1983 Arnold Zann. All Rights Reserved. For usage and fees, please e-mail Arnie (at) BCphotoadventures (dot) com or contact us at 310 Lafayette Drive, Hillsborough, NC 27278 or at 919-643-3036 before 9 p.m. east-coast time. GMT-5.How about a photograph that Arnie made back in 1983, several years before the Berne Convention Implementation Act of 1988, that a major stock house copied in several iterations? Presumably, they were making quite a few stock sales. Unfortunately, the agency for whom Arnie made the photograph could not find the record of the copyright registration, so Arnie could not sue for damages (more on this later).

BUT, when we wrote the stock house in question, they disclaimed any impropriety or guilt, yet, when I wrote, listing the agency with whom Arnie had done the image and the date of the copyright notice (all his slides were stamped with it), we noticed that they very quickly, albeit quietly, removed all knock-offs from their available images. We did our part and made sure this image was registered (yes, again, this time as a published work) with the Copyright Office right away after we discovered the theft (copyright infringement).

Without your copyright on your images, people figure it’s part of public domain and free for the taking. And with Social Media, Facebook for one, stripping all metadata off images, we never publish an image without both a visible watermark and a Digimarc (invisible embedded watermark).

David also brings up another excellent point, “You also have to consider that not using a notice will likely have future ramifications if Congress passes an orphan-works bill. I’ve heard that the feeling is this will likely happen no matter what owners’ rights groups do, so any copyright owner not using a notice is placing her/his work in jeopardy because the work won’t be identifiable.”

I won’t get into that can of worms here, but for those interested in the whole orphan works challenge for photographers, see the Copyright Office’s report as well as ASMP’s Position on Orphan Works.

Make Your Copyright Stick – Register

Register? What does that mean?

Quite simply, for $55, one can put in an application to register an unlimited number of unpublished photographs made in the same year with eCO, the electronic Copyright Office. You’ll get an e-mail receipt from the Copyright Office immediately, although it make take months before you actually receive the Certificate of Registration. Meanwhile, if someone steals your image, you now have recourse with teeth with the above receipt in hand.

Published images cost more and currently have to be registered by snail mail. Everything you wanted to know about Copyright can be found on the Copyright Office’s website. It’s well worth your while perusing it.

Another resource, and perhaps a bit less daunting, with an excellent overview of copyright can be found on the ASMP (American Society of Media Photographers) website. ASMP also teamed up with PhotoShelter to produce ASMP’s FREE Guide to Copyright for which you will have to register, a really simple process.

By registering your copyright, you make your copyright stick.

As our friend David points out, in cases when a copyright infringement is discovered, “At some later date, the owner contacts a lawyer who tells them the work(s) must be registered before a lawsuit can be filed. This has taken up to 18 months, and even with electronic registration, it is taking almost a year for certification. I find very few copyright owners have the funds or want to pay the additional money to speed up the registration process that can be done in preparation for litigation.”

Sure, you can go after the company and let them know that their use of your photograph is unauthorized, but realistically, you have no teeth against a big corporation. You are merely an annoying gnat. On the other hand, registering your copyright may entitle you to statutory damages. This has several ramifications:

• If you bring suit and win (and a registered copyright greatly increases your chances), the copyright infringer will not only have to pay you all lost income for the image (and then some), but they will be responsible for paying all your legal fees;
• An intellectual-property lawyer may be more willing to take your case on a contingency basis because of the above; and
• At the very least, if you do not want to go through the time and hassle of a copyright-infringement case, you have clout when you instruct the infringer’s big-name lawyer to stop the unauthorized use of your image and hopefully pay you for lost income and then some; most lawyers will tuck their tails between their legs when you can cite the copyright registration number.

First, however, you have to have a good, legal copyright notice.

Copyright Notice

It’s amazing the number of photographers, even pros, who don’t know a legal form of a copyright notice, let alone all three:
• © YYYY Name
• Copyright YYYY Name
• Copr. YYYY Name

Thus, mine would be © 2017 Margo Taussig Pinkerton. All Rights Reserved. The “All Rights Reserved.” is not absolutely necessary, but it does serve as a strong reminder to others that your image is copyrighted at the moment you click the shutter and that you are the person who owns all rights to it. We also recommend that you type your name in Upper and Lower Case (Initial Caps). Some people type their names in ALL CAPS THAT ARE ACTUALLY MORE DIFFICULT TO READ THAN Words in Upper and Lower Case. This is from someone (moi) who used to work for a well-respected publishing house.

So, how do you make that cute little © symbol with the BIG impact? It’s really very easy.
• PC shortcut for ©: ALT-0169
• On keypad, not with numbers across top;
• Use FN (function key)-NUM LOCK (number lock ) to use number pad on laptop (if you can’t find it, start with the M key and look carefully for the zero there, too);
• On certain PC laptops, you’ll have to activate the number lock, then press ALT-0169. In some cases, even that doesn’t work, so go to Start>Windows Help and Support>Open Character Map>Click to Open Character Map or some such path.
• Mac shortcut for ©: OPT/ALT-g
• An easy option is to highlight this © symbol, press CTRL-C (PC) or CMD-C (Mac) to copy it, then paste it into a new location by pressing CTRL-V (PC) or CMD-V (Mac). Ta-daaa! You’re all set!

So, none of the following is a legal copyright notice:
• © 2017
• 2017 Margo Taussig Pinkerton
• Margo Taussig Pinkerton 2017
• © Margo Taussig Pinkerton (without the year), unless it is for a “pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work, with accompanying textual matter, if any” that “is reproduced in or on greeting cards, postcards, stationery, jewelry, dolls, toys, or any useful article.” according to the Copyright Act of 1976.
• No court will accept anything using (c) as a substitute for Copyright, Copr. or ©; if you have an older camera body that only has the (c), beware if you are one of those who notes your copyright in the metadata … better to use Copyright or Copr. to be safe

I went to another good friend and long-time intellectual-property attorney in Boston, Andrew “Drew” Epstein, of Barker, Epstein & Loscocco, and asked him about variations on noting the three critical elements of the copyright notice. He pointed me to another document from the Copyright Office, Circular 1, “Copyright Basics”. As he said, a judge in a country observing the Berne Convention would probably accept Margo Taussig Pinkerton © 2017, but as Circular 1 notes by example, the commonly-accepted form is copyright first, then year, then name. Note his use of the word “probably” that does not sound like a guarantee to me.  I’ll stick to the three forms above.

Some people think that writing Copyright © 2017 Margo Taussig Pinkerton makes their copyright more legal. Sorry, folks; it is simply redundant. That little © symbol packs a power punch all by itself! The exception might be if you are dealing with an entity that cannot cope with the © symbol, but if that is the case, perhaps you should not be dealing with that entity!

For More Information & Recap of Resources

The United States Copyright Office is a power branch of our judicial system. On www.copyright.gov, there is a wealth of information, including Copyright Basics (that I checked for possible changes in the law), FAQs for the uninitiated (and an excellent refresher course for the experienced), and even a direct link to eCO (the electronic Copyright Office) where you can register your photographs and websites online for a lower fee than by snail mail.

So … © is for Copyright … Create a Copyright Template

You can protect your images by placing your copyright on them right during your importing process. Just add your copyright notice to your metadata template and use it as part of your importing process. Check out your importing/imaging program of choice, and there should be detailed instructions of how to edit or make your own metadata template. I have done a detailed how-to at our website for Lightroom, but the same principles will apply to your imaging program of choice. And as noted above, there are only three legal forms of your copyright notice. Make sure you choose one of them. And don’t forget, that all these copyright notices have to be updated each year, so review Copyright Notice Updates.

There are several links that you may find useful:

Originally published January 2010, and most recently revised January 1, 2017 to update useful links from ASMP and some other information.

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32 Responses to “© is for Copyright”

  1. Ted Jerome 09-16-14 at 10:45 AM #

    Wonderfully-clear article, Margo! I love the way you write.

    • TBC 09-16-14 at 1:43 PM #

      How very kind of you, Ted! I really appreciate that. It is also good to hear that you liked the way it was written.

      Take care, and thanks for your comments,


  2. Jeff Colburn 10-04-11 at 1:07 PM #

    Very informative article, thanks.

    Have Fun,

    • TBC 10-04-11 at 8:41 PM #

      Thanks, Jeff.

      We try to show different aspects of photography and different ways of looking at things.

      Take care, and thanks for writing,


  3. NancyF 03-08-11 at 5:39 PM #

    Thanks for this informative article.

    One nit: you say, “The United States Copyright Office is a powerful branch of our judicial system.” But I suspect you mean it as hyperbole, since we both know that the Copyright Office is part of the Library of Congress, the legislative branch!

    • TBC 03-08-11 at 8:36 PM #


      You are correct in that the Copyright Office is part of a larger, legislative branch. That said, it is still a powerful office that carries a lot of weight.

      Thanks for writing,


  4. Forrest MacCormack 01-07-11 at 10:47 AM #

    Thank you for such an informative post about Copyright. Great information on here – I’ve been putting copyright notices on my images for 22 years but didn’t know some of the information mentioned here.

    Forrest MacCormack

    • TBC 01-07-11 at 11:37 AM #

      Great meeting and chatting with you last night, Forrest. I’m so glad it was helpful!

      Take care,


  5. Julia harwood 01-05-11 at 9:14 PM #

    Thanks so much. I had changed computers & had forgotten to update the copyright.

    • TBC 01-06-11 at 7:26 AM #


      You’re welcome. It’s an easy thing to overlook around the new year!

      Take care,


  6. PG 01-03-11 at 8:22 AM #

    Margo, this is great info. It’s good to refresh too. I’m actually sitting here uploading my images to the http://www.copyright.gov site right now!

    • PG 01-03-11 at 8:24 AM #

      AND Happy New Year!

      • TBC 01-03-11 at 8:41 AM #

        And to you, too, from Arnie and me!

      • TBC 01-06-11 at 7:29 AM #


        And to you, too, and Fat Cat II, and of course Kodi!

        Take care,


    • TBC 01-03-11 at 8:41 AM #


      Congratulations! That’s great that you are doing that. I have to do December in the next day or so. I do it once a month, and it works out pretty well. I even do it while we are on the road!

      Take care,


  7. john 07-11-10 at 8:02 AM #

    Glad for your posting. This has been a hot topic in our local camera club. Many snap-shooters have become angry with me for stirring the pot. I’m from the ole school so I’m still learning.

    • TBC 07-11-10 at 3:03 PM #


      Realistically, we are all still learning. Technology and perceptions keep changing, and we all have to try to keep up. Glad the post was useful to you. There are a couple of more that might be of interest: The Value of Photography and Pricing Photography. You can look them both up using the drop-down search box in the panel to the right, not to be confused with WordPress’ search box at the top.

      Take care,


  8. Brian Carey 07-10-10 at 6:00 PM #

    Hey Margo thanks for this!

    • TBC 07-10-10 at 7:03 PM #


      I’m glad you found it useful!

      Take care,


  9. TBC 03-09-10 at 7:52 AM #


    This got caught up in Spam. If you go to our website, and head to the Contact Info page, you will find our e-mail.



  10. San Diego Artificial Turf 03-01-10 at 2:34 PM #

    Great post.. thanks for taking the time to write it, keep up the good work.

  11. Manhattan Real Estate 02-05-10 at 2:11 AM #

    good stuff.

  12. Moises Argento 02-04-10 at 12:48 AM #

    howdy there, I really thought your post was extremely useful and wanted to say thank you very much

  13. John Priddle 02-03-10 at 5:09 PM #

    hello there, I really found your post was very useful and wished to say thanks

    • TBC 02-04-10 at 7:51 AM #


      I’m glad you found it so useful. ASMP (American Society of Media Photographers) is running an initiative all over the country to show photographers how to register their images with the Copyright Office.

      Take care, and pass the word,


  14. Josh Mckeane 02-03-10 at 12:07 PM #

    You never run out of great ideas do ya .. nice post 🙂

    • TBC 02-04-10 at 7:50 AM #

      Thanks, Josh. I try!

      Take care,


  15. How To Weld 02-01-10 at 10:19 PM #

    You post definitely was one of the highest points of my Saturday. I was on Bing searching for something totally unrelated when the title caught my attention. I’m glad I took the time to read your blog!

    • TBC 02-04-10 at 7:49 AM #

      Copyright affects so many creators, not just photographers. Thanks for reading the article. Pass the word!

      Take care,


  16. Mirtha Henesey 01-23-10 at 11:22 PM #

    I love your site. I plan on surfing around and checking out some more posts!

  17. TBC 02-03-10 at 5:49 PM #


    Over the years, I’ve been prone to making up words. Scumbaggery seemed an excellent one to invent. So, if you haven’t heard it before, there’s a good reason. Hey, Billy Shakespeare did it, why can’t I! Thanks for putting out the word.

    Take care,




  1. Tom Dwyer’s Photography Blog » New word time: Scumbaggery - 02-01-10

    […] her blog today, which links back to one she did a while back called © is for Copyright, introduces a blatant example of how some people (and organizations) are more than okay about […]


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