With smartphones, POV cameras, point-and-shoots and beyond, these days it’s easier than ever to call yourself a creative, and snapping an image and sharing it with your followers only takes an instant. But, on the off-chance it goes viral, or simply gets reblogged, how do you begin to protect your intellectual rights?
Artists need to safeguard their work, which is why copyright is so important. It allows designers, illustrators, photographers, and other image-makers – from newbies to the advanced alike – to earn money for their efforts while protecting their intellectual property from unlawful usage. And while it’s true that visuals are automatically under copyright upon their completion, official registration is sure to protect serious work more fully.
If you’re ready to think about taking your craft to the next level, here’s what you need to do to copyright your images and start protecting them online:
Register your work with the US Copyright Office
Whether your photography is a hobby or a new business venture, you work hard on what you do and deserve to be compensated accordingly. The first step to making that happen is copyrighting your images. Administrative tasks may be tedious, but this is one you’ll need to get familiar with, and thankfully nowadays it’s a relatively easy process at copyright.gov. Formally registering your copyright ensures that no one can use or reproduce your work without your consent and, when applicable, proper remuneration, and that you alone hold exclusive image rights regarding its display, distribution, reproduction, and – when used as the basis of derivative works – creative evolution.
Having that © followed by year of publication and name alongside your image impresses on viewers that you’re serious about its security. What’s more, if you’re planning to sell to stock photo libraries, keep in mind that many – including Getty Images, Shutterstock, Dreamstime, and others – require copyright registration prior to submission.
Add a visible watermark
If you’re thinking of starting a business on your own website or an e-commerce hub like Etsy, adding a visible watermark to your work is another way to dissuade would-be thieves from stealing it. Whether it’s a semi-hidden line of text with just a copyright symbol and your name or your company logo prominently on display, a watermark makes a photo a less attractive option to copy and paste – but it can also be a means of promoting your brand. So even if someone does decide to go ahead and repost it, new viewers will know it came from you, at least, and perhaps decide to visit your site directly.
Naturally, your end product should be free of a standard watermark, but depending on your logo, certain print or postcard projects might benefit from its addition – aesthetically, and in terms of brand awareness.
When selling images off of your own portfolio site, keeping your work at the lowest manageable resolution possible is another way to ward off copycats. Don’t go so low as to negatively affect the on-screen aesthetic, of course, but be careful not to give them too much to work with, either. Higher resolution means higher levels of detail – and you don’t want to give that away for free.
Besides, if your clients are browsing thumbnails of your images, there’s no need for super hi-res visuals at this stage of the game; save those to use for paid work and large format printing and use smaller versions on your site instead.
Another deterrent to stealing images online? The inability to easily “Save As.” There are several ways to disable dragging and right-click on images you upload to the internet, but most will require knowing a bit of code. If that’s not your strength, plug-ins like No Right Click Images and WP Content Copy Protection & No Right Click do the work for you, if you power your site with WordPress. Similarly, eCommerce platform Shopify offers a Disable Right Click app as well.
Tools like these make it impossible to highlight, copy, and paste web copy, and more importantly, to create copies of images – whether they’re viewed on desktops or mobile devices.
Don’t forget about metadata
While digital photo files store camera and shot-specific information like aperture and shutter speed, they’re actually able to do a lot more. With the right input, every image you share online can have your name and copyright info stored right in its metadata. Set it up through your digital camera, and you’ll only have to worry about it once – until you’re onto a different model, that is.
It’s also possible to add metadata to existing files in programs and sites like Photoshop and WordPress, where you can find and manipulate fields like author name and description for identification and SEO purposes.
Whichever route you take, remember that if you do find that your work has been stolen or used without your consent, there are steps you can take to setting things right. You’d be surprised how many people don’t know they’re violating any rules when they copy a photo onto their own blog or website. That’s why contacting them directly with a brief, non-aggressive message alerting them to the matter is generally the easiest, most effective way to go. And even better? Follow the above precautions to mitigate any issues in the first place.
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