Apps & SoftwarePhotography

GTM Photo Tips #3: Protect your photos from becoming public domain.

Add your name to your photos with the Impression watermark iPhone app.

Are your photos up for grabs once you’ve posted them online? For the most part, yes, unless you can prove they’re yours and you have a copyright on them.

Many people assume that anything posted on the web is public domain and can therefore be used freely for designing websites, blogs, newsletters and what have you. But that’s not entirely the case. Once a photo is posted, it can easily be downloaded, reposted and modified thanks to Photoshop and other editing programs. But don’t assume the photo has no copyright on it just because it’s not marked.

A copywriter at ended up paying $4000 for a mediocre $10 beach shot assuming the photo was public domain. The copywriter used the photo to enhance a client’s tourism blog —which later was discovered by the photographer and warranted a letter from his lawyer.  The $4000 damage was light compared to what could have become a whopping sum as high as $150,000 in statutory damages with proof of a willful act.

Now if you’re the photographer, or simply have some lovely photos you want to protect, you can do one of a couple of things. Register for a copyright online at for $35.  On a single application, you can register unpublished work as a collection, as long as it is in the same year as the application. That means you only have to pay the fee once for a big group of photos. It does take anywhere between two to six months to get your certificate of registration unless you expedite the application, costing a whole bunch more. The good news is, it protects you fully allowing you to sue for statutory damages ($750 to $150,000) and legal fees. If you don’t register, you can still try to collect for the amount your work may have sold for, but that is always hard to prove.

What I’ve been doing is something a photographer friend advised me to do as a minimal protective effort. At the very least, add you name to your photos with a watermark. This can be done using Photoshop or other software programs, but I’ve recently discovered the iPhone app Impression ($1.99)  that makes it super simple to quickly add your name, a copyright mark and the year it was shot adding at least some identification to the photo if it’s found online.  Now this is not a legal copyright by any means. But it’s a good first step in identifying and claiming your photos if they were to end up some place you weren’t planning. Another good rule of thumb is to post screenshots of your photos, rather than the full-sized shot from your camera. These lower resolution shots look fine on the internet, but would not hold up if someone wanted to use them in printed material or for some other purpose. Screen shots can be taken if you’re on a Mac using Command+Shift+4. Then drag the crosshatch across the area you want to copy and let go once you’re done.  Lastly, name your photo something that includes YOUR name before uploading it.  The screenshot above is named “BenchMcKeown” and will come up in Google search accordingly.

Anyone else have any tips in this area? Or programs you use or watermarking your photographs? Please share in the comments below. And be sure to follow the GTM Photo Tips series here at

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