Friday, April 15, 2011
When is A Digital Photo Copyright Notice Valid?
Dear Rich: How do I add a copyright notice to a digital photo? I don't want a watermark or anything that appears on the image. If I embed it, is it still valid? Wow, The Dear Rich Staff loved working on Photo Week and we can't believe it's already over. Look for more exciting theme weeks soon.
Right, you had a question. A valid copyright notice is one that should be applied on all visually perceptible copies in a manner that, according to the Copyright Office, "gives reasonable notice of copyright." The notice should be permanently legible to an ordinary user of the work under normal conditions of use and should not be concealed from view upon reasonable examination. (Also, keep in mind that since March 1, 1989, copyright notice is not required on published photographs. Before that date, you could lose copyright if it was left off published copies.)
If it's not required, what good is notice? Notice serves a couple of purposes: it alerts everyone as to your copyright, and it prevents someone from ripping off your photo and later claiming they didn't know it was protected (an "innocent infringement").
So what works? If you're posting photos on a website, you can include notice on each photo -- usually accomplished by creating a "copyright notice layer" in Photoshop (and flattening a version of the image) before posting. That pre-flattened layer can be easily removed from the photo in the event you license it. Alternatively, you can include a notice near the photo or on a separate page like this.
What about metadata? A copyright notice that is included in a photo's metadata -- information that travels with the photo file but is not visible when looking at the photo -- probably does not provide valid notice since it's not visually perceptible when looking at the photo. However, we recommend that you include that information in your photo file (or using an invisible digital watermark) as that can sometimes be the key to proving infringement. (We explain how to do it below.) To include it in your metadata, you need to save copyright notice with your photo file. If you're using Photoshop (or probably any other photo editing program), you can enter metadata by going to File Info, or File Properties, (depending on your version) and entering the information as shown below. Photoshop even allows you to link to a web page where you can provide more information about copyright ownership.
Today's public domain photo: an 1853 "occupational daguerreotype" of a seamstress, part of a PD collection, "America's First Look into the Camera: Daguerreotype Portraits and Views, 1839-1864."