Musings on Photography

Copyright Notices

Posted in Uncategorized, web issues by Paul Butzi on June 28, 2007


Judging from my email inbox, it would seem a little clarification is in order.

First up: please be aware that in any country which is a party to the Berne Convention, ALL photographs are copyrighted the instant they are made, and affixing a copyright notice to the photo does nothing except remind the viewer that the work is copyrighted.  Affixing a copyright notice does not change who may use the photo without permission.  It does not change the rules for ‘fair use’.

So why, then, do all of my images have a white border, with the text “Copyright © <date> Paul Butzi Photography; embedded, as part of the image?  The answer to this is something of a long story.  Long ago, I had fairly draconian views, and wanted to absolutely eradicate any use of my images without permission.  You can read what my views were like in this article.  (Note: as the disclaimer at the head of that article points out, that article no longer represents my views).

After some time, my views on the use of images without permission changed.  See this article for details.  The important point in that article is that stopping use without permission is impossible.  Even more, stopping such usage is probably not even optimal – you can stop it completely by never posting an image on the WWW, but that stops all  all chance of postive benefit (and, for those among you who think I am motivated only by money, I’ll state up front that there are many positive benefits to posting your work on the web, and relatively few of them are financial).

So the issue boils down to this: given that if I post an image on the WWW it will be taken and used without my permission, how do I arrange things so that I actually derive some (small, perhaps microscopic) benefit when someone takes an image and uses it?  From this point of view, the problem becomes clear – when someone takes an image, unless I have somehow attached some text to the image, all connection between me and that image is lost, forever.  Someone who looks at the photo and says “Hey, I like that.  I how I can find that photographer?” can’t find me.

And the solution is the ugly copyright border you see. Sure, a motivated person could copy the image, edit the border off, and use my image without the border.  So the border isn’t perfect.  But in the vast majority of cases where someone uses my image without my permission, I at least get a teensy-weensy benefit from that use, because people who see the image can find me.

Now, as I pointed out in the first paragraph, that border I attach to every image doesn’t have any legal effect.  If someone uses an image of mine without asking permission first, the legal status of things hasn’t changed just because I’ve added that border.  Any use of my image which would be legal under the ‘fair use’ provisions of the copyright laws is still legal when I attach the border.  Mike Johnston could write a nice article about my photography or my blog, and use one of my images, and the fact that I’ve got that border on the image doesn’t in any way prevent Mike from doing that, doesn’t change whether he needs to get permission first, and wouldn’t change the outcome if I decided to sue him. 

And I’d point out that if someone then lifts that image from Mike’s website, and uses it somewhere else, people who see it in the new place could still find me.

3 Responses

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  1. Copyright Notices at Imaging Insider said, on June 28, 2007 at 1:40 pm

    […] Read More… […]

  2. Mark said, on July 4, 2007 at 6:10 pm

    The reason I use watermarks are for a similar purpose. In addition, if an image is found somewhere illegally without the watermark, it certainly shows more of an intent to use it illegally versus simple ignorance of copyright laws.

  3. fred1st said, on July 9, 2007 at 10:24 am

    I see the merits of this text-under-image. I may follow suit, but might try reducing font size and make it gray so that the eye stays away from words til it has fully seen the message of the image.

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