As a photographer, how does the copyright symbol protect you?

Why do we need copyright as photographers and what is its purpose? In a nutshell, copyright is there to stop anyone using your images for anything they want.


The answer to this is NO. This works for any amateur photographer who takes pictures. and whilst it does protect professional creatives, it also applies to anyone producing any type of creative work on any level, including photography. Even a simple snapshot on your smartphone is copyrighted. 

However, thanks to the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, which was created in 1886 and has 179 country members including the UK, your work is pretty much protected the same wherever you are in the world.


It’s simple – if you take an image, then you own the copyright to that image. Under UK copyright law, any person who ‘creates’ an image after 1st August 1989 is the owner of the image for their lifetime plus another 70 years. You don’t have to register your photographs to have them copyrighted as the law comes into existence as soon as the image is created.


But what would happen if someone else took an image on your camera – would you own the copyright? No. The person who took the image has the copyright. There was a case a while back concerning a ‘selfie’ taken by a monkey on photographer David Slater’s camera. Slater claimed he owned the copyright to the image, whereas Wikimedia Commons and the blog Techdirt claimed as the macaque took the image then the photographer didn’t have the copyright.

Photo by Michalakis Ppalis with Pixel photos

Animal rights group Peta also became involved, saying the macaque should own the copyright. Slater and Peta eventually settled, with Slater agreeing to give a quarter of the funds he receives from selling the selfie to registered charities dedicated to protecting the welfare or habitat of the macaque. The image is still on Wikimedia Commons, against the wishes of the photographer, who can no longer afford to pursue his challenge.

There may be circumstances where you might take the image but not own the copyright to the image, for example, if you are employed by a company. Most photographers employed by an organization have to sign a contract before they start work to agree to release the copyright to their employer. Legally, a contract needs to be in place if the copyright is assigned over to another person or party. Although there are many downloadable documents online, we advise that if you
want your contracts to be used as proof in a court of law, you get a professional such as a solicitor or lawyer to draw them up.

If you are a follower of this website, you know I take great pride to include the photographer’s name with every photo. But, why can I use someone else’s photos on my website? That is because the photographer(s) have agreed to let anyone use their photo. I am sure they are hoping that their photo is used and gets out there, with their name on it, so it wasn’t in vain. I use two companies that offer FREE PHOTOS without the need to obtain copyright permission. And that is, and Unsplash. Both companies are using photographs from great photographers. And I have always made it a point to attach a name to that photo.

tree with maple leaves
Photo by Valiphotos on

I love this above photo, and you have seen this several times throughout my many blogs.

Do you need to add the © symbol to your photos?

No, you don’t need to add anything to your images for them to be copyrighted to you – they are automatically your intellectual property. Intellectual property rights (IPR) are the rights granted to creators and owners of works that are the result of human intellectual creativity.

Although you don’t have to copyright your images if you are posting or uploading them online, it can be a good idea to add a watermark and the copyright symbol as extra protection. Doing so gives a clear indication to your audience that the image is owned by you. Also if an individual or company wants to track you down to use your image for commercial purposes, they can find you more easily. Adding copyright information to the metadata of your image is also a good idea.

What should I do if someone steals my work?

This is always a tough situation. Here is what usually happens:

If a company or individual takes your work, this is called infringement and you have the legal right to stop them from doing so. How you pursue them is up to you, but it’s often best to avoid going to court as this can be costly. Instead, approach the individual or company directly to inform them of their breach. Once contact has been established, a resolution can usually be made. The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) offers a mediation service at a cost to parties involved in an IP-related dispute (see links and reference boxout for details).

If no resolution can be made, you have the right to take the matter to court. However, as outlined above, this can be costly and seeking legal advice is advised. As stated on the government website, a court of law can stop that person from making further infringing use of the material by granting an injunction, award the copyright owner damages, and make the infringing party give up the goods to the copyright owner.

Will a signature on my photo work well as a copyrighted photo?

Here is one of my own photos with a signature on the front. That is a great copyright symbol.

I almost always feel that if you can put a signature on your photo, that would be harder for a person to take it off. However, they could just crop that area out, the same they could with a copyright symbol. But, a signature seems to make it definitely look like that photo totally belongs to this photographer.

I had a company by the name of PHOTOPOLISH to create my signature and an easy app on my computer to add my signature to all my photos. There are probably others, but, they worked well for me.

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