- The symbol © (the letter C in a circle), or the word “Copyright,” or the abbreviation “Copr.”
- The year of first publication of the work.
- The name of the author.
1. As a digital photographer, the copyright laws of the United States protect your “original works of authorship” whether they are published or unpublished. You have the exclusive right to reproduce copies of your work; display them publicly; and to distribute copies to the public by sale or rental agreement or another party, such as a stock photo company, by contract.
2. Federal copyright does not protect many forms of materials. Those relating to photography are an idea for a photo. It must be in a tangible form to be protected. Neither can you claim copyright of the title or name of a photo.
3. Your photos are protected as soon as they become tangible, which includes an electronic form. A print is not necessary. You may not be considered the author of the output of some of your photography assignments. If you were an employee of a studio, for example, your employer would retain the rights to whatever you shoot as a “work made for hire.” A photo you submit as a freelancer to a publication or other collective work is protected as yours, unless otherwise stated in a contractual agreement, and is separate from any copyright of the entire publication or work.
Typically, wedding photos are not the copyrighted property of the couple, but the photographer. This is one of the many reasons that it is important to have an attorney create a client agreement for you that explicitly states that you retain these rights. You have the right, however, to sell the copyright of a couple’s photos to them, but this is often for a price separate from any prints they may order.
4. It is unnecessary to publish your photos or register them with the U.S. Copyright Office for them to be protected.
5. Although a copyright notice is not required to protect your photos, there are very good reasons for doing so. Such a notice informs the public that the work is protected by copyright; identifies you, as the copyright owner; and shows the year of first publication. In addition, if you ever had to sue someone for copyright infringement, the defendant in the suit could not claim that he or she was unaware that your photo was protected.
6. The correct form of copyright notice requires three elements:
The standard form is: © 2012 Joe Smith.
The copyright notice should be legible and placed on a photo, so it can be reasonably noticed.
It’s a good idea to place a copyright notice on all of your photos, regardless of whether they are published or distributed in some other manner. The common form for an unpublished photo is: Unpublished work © 2012 Joe Smith.
7. Any individual photo receives copyright protection for the length of your life plus an additional 70 years, if it was first in tangible form on or after January 1, 1978. The clock begins to run from the date of origination.
8. You have the right to transfer the exclusive rights of a photo to another person or persons; but the transfer must be in writing and signed by you. A transfer can also be part of your will if it complies with the laws of your state.
9. Your photos are not automatically protected throughout the world by any form of international copyright protection. Many countries are parties to international copyright treaties and conventions that make it easier to protect your photos.
10. The information presented in this PhotographyTalk article is of a general nature. For specific details, please refer to the U.S. government publication, Copyright Basics, which is available at http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ01.pdf. It is also a good idea to have a copyright discussion with your attorney, so he or she can advise you according to the latest federal, state and international statues.